‘I want people to feel comfortable’: As Rock Co ditches mask requirements, businesses left to decide their own rules

MILTON, Wis. – After Rock County Public Health Department announced it would be doing away with a county-wide mask mandate effective immediately Friday afternoon, businesses were left to make their own rules.

RCPH says while they’re following the CDC’s guidance of allowing fully-vaccinated people to remove their masks in most public settings, there are still some situations in which masks are recommended.

“There are still some requirements in place at the federal level and local level,” said Jessica Turner, a communications specialist for RCPH. “I think we’ll start to see more people that are vaccinated going without a mask, and maybe not social distancing quite as much. People will be able to be in contact with their loved ones and their friends a little more than they’ve been able to, it’s really exciting.”

Some corporate chains have already announced they’d be doing away with mask requirements, but for smaller businesses, the choice is complex.

Now that the new CDC guidelines have come out, for me, it’s not about a political debate, it’s about keeping everyone safe,” said Nikki Olson, owner of Farmhouse Finds in Milton.  “So if people don’t wear a mask, I just try to walk around my store, keep my distance, make sure other people are keeping their distance as well.”

Olson said her experience is more complex than most, however. In February of 2020, she left Wisconsin to assist communities hardest hit by COVID-19 as a travel ICU nurse.

I was seeing the news before the news was broadcasted,” Olson said. “I was giving my husband live updates as things were unfolding. Honestly, it was a very scary time for me last year.”

While she says she’s comfortable not wearing a mask after her COVID-19 vaccination and will no longer require them at her store, she’s still conscious of distancing and willing to put on a mask if it’d make a customer feel more comfortable.

I don’t want to offend anyone, I don’t want to make anyone feel upset, but I also want people to feel comfortable,” she said. “It’s really hard. (Balancing) Science, personal beliefs, work, work here. I think for me, it’s mainly just about being comfortable. This whole year has changed everyone, not just certain people – everyone. I really want to provide a safe yet comfortable place to come in shop and visit the place of Milton.”