Public health department leans on voluntary compliance first, can fine hundreds of dollars if needed

MADISON, Wis. — With masks now mandatory in indoor public spaces in Dane County, those without a face covering could get a fine if they refuse to comply.

Marci Paulsen, an assistant attorney with the Madison City Attorney’s office, said the city and county don’t think it will come to that.

“Since public health, our local department, has taken control of the orders compliance has not been an issue in general,” Paulsen said.

She said the city has given out fewer than 15 citations since this year’s public health orders began. She said usually, asking and telling people why they have to follow the order is enough.

“We’ve received hundreds of complaints and when we follow up with businesses generally we get compliance and everyone complies,” Paulsen said. “The first complaint goes to the public health office and rarely does it even come to our office.”

If that doesn’t work when it comes to masks, the public health department has the authority to give a citation. If you’re in the city of Madison, that comes with a $376 dollar fine. Elsewhere in Dane County, it is $263.50.

The health department stresses the enforcement comes from them.

“We’re not asking businesses to enforce the order against customers,” Paulsen said. “We’re asking them to ask for voluntary compliance but we do not want anyone confronting anyone, challenging anyone or getting into any of the arguments that you’ve heard around the country.”

The public health department also said if you see someone without a mask, assume they have a valid reason. If someone says they have a medical condition stopping them from wearing one, take their word. If you want to report non-compliance, you can email