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Mixed feelings in county with no mask mandate after Wisconsin Supreme Court decision

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PORTAGE (WKOW) - There are mixed feelings in Columbia County to the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision to strike down Governor Evers' statewide mask mandate.

"I'm disappointed," Portage mayor Rick Dodd said. "I do think that masks do some good and slowed the pandemic down."

Earlier this month, Dodd unsuccessfully tried to convince the Columbia County Board of Supervisors to enact a county mask mandate. Dodd said Portage's municipal building does require that masks be worn. 

But Dodd says there's no plan to seek further mask requirements.

"We in the city do not have a public health nurse," Dodd said.  "It's very difficult for us to issue a public health order.  "So we're just going to push locally for people to be informed of the mask and what they are going to do for us."

Laurie Krueger owns Forever Yours Jewelry in downtown Portage.  She struggles to breathe when wearing a mask and applauds the high court decision.

"Personally, I'm happy about that," Krueger said.  

Krueger says she's not alone in her struggle with masks.

"That's what I hear from a lot of elderly people who come through the door - they can't breathe through the mask," Krueger said.

With no county mask mandate and uncertain enforcement of the state's soon-to-lapse mask requirement, Krueger has left it to customers to decide whether to wear a mask in her store. 

But she says the relaxed policy has not relegated safety to a forgotten consideration as maskless customers enter.

"If they see someone else coming on with a mask and see us all putting on masks, they'll put their mask on," Krueger says.  "Everyone's been extremely respectful that way."

Diane Green's neighboring candle store, Sparkle & Sparkle also allows customers discretion when it comes to wearing masks.

"If they don't wear a mask, we're not going to require them to," Green said.

Both Green and Krueger say business is picking up with warmer weather and more confidence the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be easing. 

Krueger says more of her customers have received COVID-19 vaccine doses.
Green concedes she worries variant strains are increasing and the high court's decision impacting mask wearing leaves some vulnerability.

"I'm kind of on the fence," Green said. "I think (mask wearing) is a good idea because we've got another surge coming and it's concerning.  But I think people are smart enough to take the precautions they need to take."

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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