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COVID Cops ratchet up health order fines

Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 16, 2020

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — As coronavirus cases rise, Wisconsin’s COVID cops are stepping up their pursuit of public health order violators.

A Milwaukee city proposal would raise penalties from $500 to as much as $5,000, with a maximum accumulated fine of $20,000.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that it’s time to get tough on businesses that would dare defy health orders.

“There’s no question that we have to raise the fine,” he said. “We have heard reports of operators or venue operators who have said, ‘Well, I’ve got a $5,000, $6,000 event coming up and the fine is $500, I’ll just tack that on to the cost.'”

Apparently lost on the Democrat, is that stringent health orders are driving businesses to the brink of extinction. Desperation now comes with the territory.

Milwaukee health officials did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request seeking information on the number of health order violation citations issued as of Friday.

Urban Milwaukee, however, on Saturday reported the Milwaukee Health Department, in moving from warnings to citations, has cited three health order violators. In two cases, two establishments failed to comply with social distancing and mask requirements. A Middle Eastern restaurant and hookah bar was cited for allowing patrons to smoke the water pipes, now banned under the city’s health order. 

Some five-dozen businesses have received warnings since July 27, Urban Milwaukee reported. 

“The educational period is over,” Barrett said in a press briefing issued Oct. 22. “People are either with the program or they’re not with the program.”

Public Health Madison & Dane County has issued 44 total citations to businesses since March, 27 of those between Oct. 15 and Friday. First offense citations for violating the public health order is $263.50 in the county; $376 in the city of Madison.

Now, COVID cops are dropping by homes.

“The Madison City Attorney’s office has prepared 21 prosecutions for order violations since October 15,” said Sarah Mattes, communications supervisor for the health agency. “These are related to private gatherings (basically house parties).”

One of the more high-profile actions was taken against Helbachs Coffee Roasters, a Middleton coffee house the health department targeted following allegations the business declared it was a “mask free zone.” Helbachs has denied the accusations and filed a lawsuit in federal court against the agency and its threatened enforcement actions.

The coffee shop in late August announced it would close its Middleton location because of “the enforcement action, negative public statements, and continued vindictive and hostile behavior towards Helbachs Coffee taken by Public Health Madison & Dane County.”

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