Community members will need to have a cloth face covering ready starting Monday, July 27, if they plan to visit any indoor space in Superior that accommodates the public.

The Superior City Council split 9-1 to adopt a resolution Tuesday, July 21 to require people to use a face covering when entering businesses open to the public. Councilor Keith Kern opposed the resolution.

Children age 5 and younger, and people unable to wear a face covering because of legitimate medical, developmental or psychological reasons are exempt from the requirement, according to the measure. Athletes and performers also do not have to wear face coverings during practice, performance and competition.

The citywide requirement applies to restaurants, bars, retail businesses, gyms, fitness centers, sporting facilities and entertainment venues, and public transportation. It does not apply to government facilities outside of the city's control, like the county-owned Government Center, and state- or federally-operated facilities.

Employees at taverns and restaurants who work with the public or handle food, beverage, utensils and equipment must also wear masks. Only people who are actively eating or drinking may remove their face covering in a bar or restaurant.

Religious activities and institutions of higher education, public and private kindergarten through 12th grade schools and licensed child care facilities that already follow Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation guidelines were exempted from the mask requirement after the council adopted amendments recommended by Mayor Jim Paine.

The public speaks out

Caleb Robertson, of South Range, spoke against the resolution for a few reasons. He said he felt the council would be overstepping its bounds by issuing the mandate, and he questioned the efficacy of masks in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“I do not think that it is the place of the government to mandate such things. I think it is the right of people to choose,” Robertson said.

Sean Smith, of Superior, said he felt a mandate would be unconstitutional. He also said he believes the virus is waning.

“I don’t think that it’s the place of the City Council to tell the residents of the city of Superior how to live their lives,” Smith said. “We’re all well-adjusted people that can make our own decisions.”

Data shows the number of COVID-19 cases in Douglas County have nearly quadrupled since June 25. About 75% of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Douglas County were within the city of Superior.

Statewide cases continue to grow. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported its largest daily total of new cases since the start of the pandemic on Tuesday with 1,117 new cases in Wisconsin.

Superior resident Waylon Jensen said he feels it is within the council's authority to make the rules people live by. He also pointed to countries that have succeeded in slowing or stopping the spread of the virus have mandated masks and told people to stop going out.

“I don’t want my surgeon to show up to the operation without wearing a mask … it stops droplets, stops bacteria,” Jensen said. “Individuals with no medical degree, no science degree in the community aren’t going to sit here and tell me that masks don’t work … that’s just utter nonsense. They work and we should have to wear them.”

Two amendments fail

Kern said business owners are having enough trouble in the current environment staying open and employing people without the city putting more mandates on their operations.

“I support wearing masks,” Kern said. “But to mandate it — I just can’t go along with it.”

Kern proposed replacing the word “mandate” with “strongly encouraged” throughout the resolution, and amending it to remove mention of potential penalties for individuals who refuse to wear masks and businesses that don’t enforce the mask requirement. Both were rejected by the council in 8-2 votes. Councilor Craig Sutherland supported the amendments with Kern.

Councilor Brent Fennessey said he didn’t have an issue with the potential penalties being in the resolution. The council reserves the right to withhold licenses when a license holder doesn’t follow the rules, he said.

“This isn’t anything new under the sun,” Fennessey said.

Councilors Nicholas Ledin, Jenny Van Sickle, Warren Bender, Jack Sweeney, Fennessey, Tylor Elm, Ludwig, Sutherland, and Esther Dalbec voted in favor of the face covering requirement.