Chippewa County businesses wrestle with mask policies

·4 min read

May 18—CHIPPEWA FALLS — Employees at Northwestern Bank in Chippewa Falls are still wearing masks. Customers aren't required to wear them, but they are recommended, said bank President Jerry Jacobson.

"OSHA hasn't changed their (policy) for employees," Jacobson said Monday, referring to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "And you can't ask employees if they are vaccinated or not. I think it's a difficult situation. We really don't know what to do. It's best to err on the safe side."

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control issued new guidelines for mask use, saying they are no longer required indoors by those who are fully vaccinated.

Some municipalities, like Eau Claire County, still have a mask mandate policy in place, but Chippewa County has no such ordinance.

Jacobson noted that the bank has branches in Eau Claire County, and that was one of the reasons he left the mask requirement in place for workers, because he didn't want to have different rules at different offices. He knows many employees want to ditch the masks.

"We'll see how things go," he said. "It's not an easy decision."

Chippewa Falls Main Street executive director Teri Ouimette said she's already heard from several business owners in downtown, asking her for advice on how to proceed forward.

"I think (the removal of the mask rules) came as a surprise to a lot of business owners," Ouimette said. "I have talked to a lot of business owners who feel they are left to their own devices. It's really hard, because you don't want to offend people; you want to do business."

Ouimette said the good news is removing the mask mandates is showing a light at the end of the tunnel to the pandemic. But it has left businesses confused.

"Some will keep their masks, and some aren't," she said. "Unfortunately, it's become such a political thing."

Chippewa County Administrator Randy Scholz announced Monday afternoon that he has dropped the mask requirement to enter the courthouse, effective today. However, masks will still be required in the courtrooms and in the jail. Prior to the announcement, Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk said he wouldn't change the jail's mask policy because he hasn't had a single inmate test positive for COVID-19.

"We will still adhere to the policy in place, of masks and temperature-taking," Kowalczyk said. "All personnel, inmates, will be required to be screened and (newly incarcerated inmates) will have a 14-day quarantine."

At the YMCA in Chippewa Falls, signs requiring masks have been replaced with a sign saying anyone who is vaccinated can use the building without wearing one. The sign also asks that no one be harassed for opting to continue wearing a mask. The plexiglass dividers in the lobby were removed over the weekend.

Dennis Hunt, owner of Chippewa Valley Financial Services, also said he is asking clients who are not vaccinated to please wear a mask. With Monday being the final day for filing taxes, Hunt has been busy, meeting face-to-face with several clients.

"If people want us to wear masks, we will, whether we are vaccinated or not," Hunt said. "It's a little bit of social responsibility. And I encourage all my employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible."

Jason Jacobson, owner of Sokup's Market in Chippewa Falls, said he is not requiring masks for either customers or employees.

"I am leaving it up to the workers," Jacobson said. "Everyone at the store has been vaccinated; I didn't require it."

Brian Krista, owner of Burly's bar in Chippewa Falls, also said he isn't requiring masks for anyone.

"I have sanitizers sitting on the bar, and that's it," Krista said. "It's up to them, and to the employees."

Krista said he's already seeing the benefits of the rollback of the mask mandates.

"I think it will help more people get out," Krista said. "I had a few people stop in on Friday that haven't been in here in a while, and they were older. It can only help."