MADISON, Wis. — Dozens of Dane County residents queued up to make their voices heard before the county Board of Supervisors on Thursday night regarding a resolution to halt the health director’s endless mask mandate “until public input and the consent of the governed has been achieved.”
After lengthy public comment and debate among the supervisors, the board rejected the resolution on a 29-4 vote, with Supervisors Jeff Weigand, Tim Rockwell, Dave Ripp, and Tim Kiefer supporting the resolution. Supervisor Michele Doolan absurdly called the resolution to halt the unscientific mandate “government overreach,” and Health Director Janel Heinrich, who was on the call, refused to grant any more transparency.
The mask order was handed down by this unelected director of public health in Madison and Dane County in August, renewed in September, October, twice in November through December, and was extended again before the New Year into February.
“The Constitutionality of this order is in question,” Resolution 157 states. “Further, the scientific facts that Public Health Madison and Dane County reviewed regarding the effectiveness of face covers is unknown. It is also unknown what public input was sought or received from elected officials, schools, business, and the like. Prior to imposing government mandates, the Public Health Officer should hear the views of the residents of Dane County, explain the reasoning for an order to the County Board, and seek consensus from the Board and the general public.”
More than 500 residents registered in opposition to the resolution, indicating they support the mandate, and roughly 125 registered in support of the resolution and against the mandate. About 85 registered to speak.
Supervisor Patrick Downing asked for a rule suspension, requesting that each of the registrants’ speaking time allotment be reduced from five minutes to three minutes because otherwise, public comment “could take us until 2 o’clock in the morning.”
That motion failed dramatically, with 26 of the supervisors voting against it — and rightly so. After almost two years of COVID and heavy-handed mandates in Dane County, this was the first time residents had had a chance to address the board in this fashion. Supervisors Jeff Weigand and Tim Rockwell, who both sponsored Res. 157, held an informal public hearing on the mask mandate last month, which drew 182 registrants, 176 of whom opposed the mask mandate.
That informal hearing followed the county Board of Health refusing to hear public testimony from residents who had lawfully registered to speak about the mandate at a public meeting in December. This was despite the board’s own agenda saying the public could comment on any matter.
On Thursday, registrant opinions differed widely, with plenty of professors, union representatives, and healthcare workers invoking their credentials and fearmongering with omicron case numbers (which have risen dramatically despite the mask mandate) to plead for Dane County residents to continue living in fear indefinitely. One business owner tried to suggest that the mandate is actually good, essentially because it allows her to make the county Health Department the bad guy in her desire to require masks for her patrons.
“It is a lot easier on those of us who are trying to enforce the mask mandate when there is cover, shall we say, from the county and from this mandate,” said Amy Owen, who opposed the resolution. “Trying to do it individually and just asking people themselves is a lot more difficult, and I feel like it’s a lot safer to have the mask mandate in place.”
“Clearly there is a significant difference of opinion as to whether masks work to stop the spread of the virus, or whether they only serve to assuage people’s anxiety,” said one concerned resident Jeffrey Horn, who supported the resolution, citing studies from the Mayo Clinic and the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that masks had a negligible effect on COVID-19 transmission. “Any following of the science should stand up to the light of scrutiny in a public meeting and your actual vote on the matter.”
Although the resolution failed, the mask mandate fight is more than one battle over one resolution. It’s a war against unaccountable and unelected health bureaucrats, and the frustrated residents of Dane County are determined to fight until the unlawful mask mandate is eradicated. In a rare sign of progress, the Wisconsin Supreme Court finally agreed in December to bypass lower courts and take up a case filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty that challenges the mandate.
“While I’m disappointed in tonight’s vote this isn’t the end,” Weigand wrote in a Facebook post after the vote. “We need to continue to stand up and demand that our government operate with transparency and accountability. I look forward to continuing to engage the citizens of Dane County in our attempt to get our questions answered.”