Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Mask mandate not a priority in Iron County


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HurleyIron County Sheriff Paul Samardich indicated his department won’t be forcing people to wear masks in a clarification he issued Friday regarding Gov. Tony Evers’ Thursday order mandating the wearing of masks or face coverings when in indoor public places.

“In order to provide some clarification, please be advised the Iron County Sheriff’s Office will not be responding to complaints of individuals violating the governor’s mandate, nor will it be taking any direct law enforcement action as it relates to the governor’s face covering mandate,” Samardich said in a press release. “Consistent with our understanding of this executive order, the goal is compliance and education and is not meant to be punitive. However, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office will continue to respond to reports or complaints from a business owner, manager or other premise owner who has already requested that an individual leave a premise for failing to comply with the face covering mandate as it relates to that specific premise.”

Samardich said he supports individual actions taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 — including adhering to proper social-distancing practices, proper hand washing, use of masks and other personal protective equipment.

“Additionally, we appreciate the efforts of business owners who have taken numerous steps to keep people healthy, including but not limited to the use of safety barriers, social distance arrangements, as well as disinfecting procedures,” Samardich said. “We understand some individuals may have medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from utilizing masks.”

He said he issued Friday’s press release in response to “a number of inquiries regarding the enforcement of (Evers’) order.”

In cases where the department does respond to situations of someone refusing to leave a property, Samardich said the response is because a disturbance may be likely and the focus won’t be on the order itself but rather the fact the individual is refusing to leave a place where they aren’t wanted and isn’t complying with requests to leave.

“This enforcement response is consistent with most, if not all, of the other sheriff’s offices throughout northern Wisconsin,” Samardich said.”

Ben Meyer, with Rhinelander-based public radio station WXPR, said on Twitter that Oneida County, Vilas County, Forest County, Lincoln County and Langlade County, as well as the cities of Park Falls, and Phillips are among the other places that won’t be enforcing the governor’s order.

Hurley Police Chief Chris Colassaco said he completely supports people wearing masks and the effort to stop the spread of the virus, but his various concerns about the feasibility of enforcing the governor's order meant his department would be adopting a similar approach as the sheriff's department.

Samardich said he anticipates more information on the governor’s order in the coming days, but, until then, it’s not clear who the governor has designated as responsible for enforcing the order.

COVID cases rise

While the discussion around the governor’s order continues, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the area continues to rise as the local health departments released their latest figures Thursday.

The Iron County Health Department reported a total of 70 positive cases in residents, 42 of whom have recovered. There are also seven non-residents in the county who have tested positive, according to the update. So far, three of Iron County’s cases have required hospitalization, according to the release, and the county’s single fatality remains the first case announced March 26.

The health department also reported there have been 933 negative tests.

Earlier this week, the department released information regarding the ages of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 so far. According to the information, 67.6% of the positive cases have been people under the age of 60 — with 19.1% between the ages of 0 and 19, 27.9% between the ages of 20 and 39, and 20.6% between the ages of 40 and 59. Those who are between the ages of 60-79 make up 27.9% of cases, while 4.4% are those who are 80 or older.

In Michigan, Gogebic County accounted for 72 of the 122 positive cases in the five counties the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department serves, as of Thursday, as well as seven of the 16 probable cases.

In a comment on its Facebook page, the WUPHD said it was putting in a request for National Guard help with a testing event in Gogebic County.

Ontonagon County has three positives and one probable, Houghton County has 40 positives and seven probables, Baraga County has five positives, and Keweenaw County has two positives and one probable.

Thirty-one of the 122 cases are considered recovered — including nine in Gogebic County — meaning the person is alive 30 days after the onset of symptoms. The five-county region’s lone death is still the Gogebic County case announced in late Match.