New group puts central Wisconsin business’ COVID-19 protocols all in one place

Published: Jul. 3, 2020 at 7:20 PM CDT
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A new resource in central Wisconsin is connecting businesses taking on COVID-19 recommendations with people who want to see businesses take those precautions.

John Omernik and his wife were having discussions about navigating the new pandemic world, trying to keep themselves and others safe while keeping communities going.

“There are some who want to portray it as those who want to protect people’s health and those who want to get the economy going and that they’re on two different sides and we were just frustrated with that,” Omernik said. “It is not a two-sided thing. There are a lot of us out there who want both, but we might not be the loudest people out there.”

“There’s a lot of other really quiet people who can’t go out because they’re doing cancer treatments, people who can’t go out because they’re caring for an elderly parent, people who can’t go out because they have an immunocompromised child and they have a voice too,” he continued.

He said he knows of people who have gone to businesses and were shamed for wearing a mask that, unless is an N95 or similar mask, is to protect other people, not the individual.

“We started talking to business owners and there are business owners who are supporting mask-wearing, why not, why not get a list so those of us who want to support those businesses can support them?” He said that is where the idea for the Central Wisconsin Maskers Facebook group was born.

Omernik has a data background and started crowdsourcing and collecting information about central Wisconsin businesses’ COVID-19 protocols. He puts the information in a spreadsheet and also created an interactive map that allows people to see businesses that are taking precautions, largely focused on mask protocol.

On the map, here are three main indicators: a green pin indicates the business requires employees and customers to wear masks; a blue pin indicates only employees are required to wear masks; a yellow pin indicates masks are not required, but the business is taking other COVID-19 precautions. Clicking on the pins will show more details.

Pins that are a circle with a star in the center follow the same color indications but means the business has been in contact with the group directly to confirm or add information.

The Facebook group is a private group that requires people to accept certain terms before joining the group.

The Central Wisconsin Maskers Facebook group is a private group that requires people who want...
The Central Wisconsin Maskers Facebook group is a private group that requires people who want to join to accept the terms to be part of the group.(WSAW Emily Davies)

“I’m not going to report on bad businesses,” Omernik stated. “This isn’t a place to shame business owners who have to make a really hard decision and that’s the key here. Business owners are not ‘at fault’ necessarily putting masks on. I want to encourage them to wear a mask and require their employees to wear a mask, but I know that there are challenges to that, you know, their clientele may say one thing and people who might come into their business might give them a hard time or might choose to go elsewhere if they are requiring masks and that’s really hard.”

His wife has created thank you cards people can print out and give to businesses that follow COVID-19 protocols.

In the week it has existed, the group has gained more than 1,200 members with more than 200 businesses listed. He said people have been respectful, though occasionally he has had to remove posts that start to become political or if a business is bashed. He said, he will allow a member to vent a little, knowing how passionate people can be about this topic, but if he or the other moderators feel someone goes too far, they will remove the post.

He said he believes the reason the group has grown so quickly is that “there are a lot of people who want to participate in the economy and don’t know how to do it safely. They’re there, but their voices aren’t loud and this allows them to join voices without having to scream at somebody, without having to show up in public places to demand masks. This is that way of coming together, safely.”

Laura Di Salvo joined the group and is the owner of Kindred Spirit Books in Stevens Point. She implemented health recommendations when she reopened including requiring customers to wear masks, but said having all of this information about businesses in the area in one place for people who find these kinds of precautions important has benefited her shop.

“It certainly has done me a lot of good because now people are aware that I’m being as safe as I can, so I’ve had a lot more customers,” she said.

She also has found the group and information beneficial personally and likes knowing when she wants or needs to go out shopping too.

“My husband has one lung so I want to be as careful as I possibly can because I don’t want to be responsible for bringing anything home and I don’t want to give it to anybody else,” she explained.

While she sells disposable and reusable masks, she said occasionally people, even some regular customers, have refused to put one on and had to ask them to leave, adding ultimately it is their choice.

Omernik said new businesses are being added and information will be updated as it is changed.

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