City of La Crosse can issue mask mandate, health leaders say

Winona is requiring face masks be worn inside public spaces starting Friday

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – The big, ongoing debate throughout this whole pandemic is whether or not we should wear a face mask.

“This is not political,” La Crosse County Health Department director Jen Rombalski said.

But some cities in our area are taking measures into their own hands.

“I think if everybody’s wearing a mask, I think this will actually help a lot of people to feel better,” Winona mayor Mark Peterson said.

With the state of Minnesota still under a stay at home order, it gives local government officials much more flexibility to mandate the order.

“I know that this is partly through the executive orders from the governor of Minnesota, and what we followed with with our own executive order, it does allow us to do this,” Peterson said.

On the other side of the border, Wisconsin does not have stay at home order, making it much more difficult for Governor Tony Evers to issue a statewide mask order.

“The Supreme Court ended not only Safer-at-Home, but really constricted what created a chaotic situation,” Evers said. “So, we really don’t know if I have the authority to do that.”

But, local governments do have power.

“The most authority exists at the most local level, which is the municipality level in the state of Wisconsin,” Rombalski said.

That’s because Wisconsin is a home-rule state. However, it would be a slow-moving process.

“So what that would look like is municipalities that have authority to do an ordinance in their municipality would do that ordinance,” Rombalski said. “We would all work together to have that process move through. The county would also pass an ordinance which would cover the unincorporated areas of the county.”

Rombalski says she does not have the power to issue a county-wide order right now.

“There is a statewide committee that is nearing the end of their analytical review of the legality and the guidelines for health officers and health departments,” Rombalski said.

But she says it shouldn’t take an order for people to wear masks.

“This is in my opinion the single-most simple and easy tool that we are not maximizing in our community,” Rombalski said.

A mask mandate in Rochester started Wednesday and will last until September.

On Friday, Winona will do the same for the next 30 days.

Dane County is also requiring everyone wear face coverings indoors in public starting Monday.

Meanwhile, the city of Milwaukee is proposing its own ordinance. In this case, people must wear masks inside public places as well as outside within 30 feet of a stranger.