After nearly four hours of public comment, the Dane County Board of Supervisors voted 29-4 early Friday morning against a controversial resolution urging health officials to repeal the local mask mandate.
The resolution, 157, urges Public Health Madison & Dane County director Janel Heinrich to dismiss the current emergency order — which was issued on Dec. 20, 2021, and extends the mask mandate through Feb. 1 — until public input and “consent of the governed” has been achieved.
The previous emergency order had the mask mandate set to expire Jan. 3.
Authored by county Supervisor Jeff Weigand, who represents District 20 just east of Sun Prairie, the resolution has been before the city and county’s joint public health committee twice, once in September and once in December. Most recently, on Dec. 1, the resolution was indefinitely postponed in committee.
But the resolution made its way before the full board for the first time Thursday, much to the chagrin of several supervisors who had been part of its original suspension. Weigand, however, said he was proud the resolution was finally getting the full board’s attention.
Echoing comments made by many in public comment, Weigand argued the public health department hasn’t been transparent with data "to evaluate mask extensions.”
"We have unanswered questions,” he said. “This is far beyond an immediate emergency in which the health department would need to act."
Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher told the Cap Times Thursday before the meeting that public health officials have the statutory authority to help protect the public from public health emergencies. And she said the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be just that.
“I'm disappointed that we're going to see this resolution on the board floor,” Eicher said. “I really see this as the unnecessary continued politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is unfortunate. This is not a right or left issue.”
The four supervisors that voted in favor of the resolution (and who wanted the mask mandate repealed) were: Supervisors Tim Kiefer, District 25; Dave Ripp, District 29; Tim Rockwell, District 19; and Weigand, District 20.
Supervisors Elizabeth Doyle, Steven Peters, Sheila Stubbs and Carl Chenoweth were not present for the vote.
While 80 people registered to speak during public comment, both in support and in opposition of the resolution, Eicher announced at the beginning of the meeting that 123 people registered in support of the resolution and 547 in opposition, but weren't speaking at the meeting.
The public comment section varied from University of Wisconsin-Madison professors, to City Council members, to nurses and doctors.
PHMDC's Heinrich spoke at the meeting only once, after midnight, to address some of the misinformation that circulated during the public comment.
“We have since the beginning made it very clear that the science will continue to evolve. The more we know about this virus, the more the science will drive our guidance,” Heinrich said. “That has changed since the beginning and yes it’s been confusing to a lot of folks, including in public health and health care as we have to rapidly adapt.”
When the time came for supervisors to discuss the resolution at midnight, most kept their messages brief and direct.
Supervisor Michele Doolan, District 28, called the resolution an attempt to override PHMDC, a completely separate governmental body.
“I can’t in good faith pretend that this resolution isn’t a blatant attempt at government overreach, and I also refuse to politely pretend it wasn’t politically motivated,” Doolan said. “I could totally make the popular decision tonight to try to secure my reelection if I cared more about my political career than I do about the safety of everyone in this entire county.”
Ripp said the county board and PHMDC’s lack of conversation on the topic has hurt the community.
“I think Public Health totally messed up how they did this,” Ripp said. “They should have had this public hearing a year ago. If they did… we wouldn’t have near the fighting we have now among the people at this point.
"I’m voting yes on this because I still think it would be a lot smarter if they actually did it right.”
Supervisor Alex Joers, District 9, expressed his disappointment that the resolution made it to the board altogether.
“This was not an exercise in transparency; rather, it allowed misinformation to further take hold over our community,” he said. “We as leaders have to be better than this. … I hope after tonight we can all take time to set aside any self-interest and think about how we can come together as a community and care for our neighbors.”