Faced with a petition signed by 1,700 people demanding a face mask requirement in Lake Geneva, the city’s elected leaders are taking steps to reconsider such a mandate to control the spread of coronavirus.
A petition launched at the change.org website calls on city officials to require face masks in businesses and in public spaces, citing Lake Geneva’s “extreme levels of tourism” during the coronavirus pandemic.
The petition was discussed July 13 at a Lake Geneva City Council meeting. Organizers of the petition drive, however, did not address the council at that time.
City Attorney Dan Draper told aldermen they could not discuss the face mask issue July 13, because the matter was not on the public agenda for that meeting.
So aldermen agreed to consider the issue July 21 during a 6 p.m. meeting of the finance, license & regulation committee. Any proposal from the committee would move on to the full council for final consideration.
The council voted May 28 against requiring tourists and others to wear face masks as a way of combating the spread of coronavirus in the popular summer resort town.
But as the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge locally and elsewhere, some aldermen have signaled a desire to revisit the subject of a face mask mandate.
Alderman Ken Howell said he wants to know what options are available to the city.
“I know we have a right to suggest them,” Howell said, referring to face masks. “Whether we have a right to order them — which I probably would be for, at this point — I don’t know.”
Peter Merry, a Lake Geneva resident who started the petition at change.org, said he was pleased with the number of people who have signed, but he was disappointed with a lack of response from the city.
Merry said he does not understand why face masks are required when people are inside City Hall, but not in restaurants, taverns or other businesses.
He said many tourists visit Lake Geneva without face masks because there is no government requirement to protect public health by controlling the spread of coronavirus.
Merry said he is part of a “silent majority” seeking stronger enforcement of public safety standards.
“A lot of people are fed up,” he said, “and they want the city council to do something about it.”
The petition, with support exceeding 1,700 signatures, calls on Lake Geneva to provide “basic protections” by requiring people to wear face masks “in public spaces and in businesses,” as well as reducing capacity in “crowded areas” and enforcing social distancing guidelines.
The petition includes a hashtag “#peopleoverprofit.”
One downtown business owner is urging the city not to require face masks.
Beverly Leonard and Jeffrey Leonard, co-owners of Delaney Street Mercantile, 905 W. Main St., submitted a letter to the council opposing such a requirement.
Delaney Street Mercantile allows shoppers inside without the protective face coverings.
Beverly Leonard said shoppers and other downtown visitors should be able to decide for themselves if they want to wear a face mask.
“We’re all educated people,” Leonard said. “If you feel you should wear a mask, then you should wear one, but I don’t think it should be enforced.”
Merry said he plans to keep the petition posted until the city council either approves a face mask requirement or takes some other action.
Other possible steps being discussed among city officials is a resolution urging Walworth County to pass a countywide face mask measure, and erecting a large sign encouraging people to wear face masks as they enter the city.
Merry said government must take action before the pandemic infects more people.
“The fact of the matter is that this is only going to get worse,” he said. “And it’s up to the Lake Geneva City Council to decide how bad it’s going to get in our town.”