Protesters Gather Outside Helbachs

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Michelle Phillips

MIDDLETON–About 25 protesters showed up throughout the morning of July 18 to protest Helbachs coffee house in Middleton, which has not been following the public health order requiring masks, which put in place by Public Health of Madison and Dane County (PHMDC).

Armed with signs that read “Masks Save Lives,” “Mask Up” and “Trust Science,” protesters gathered outside of the main entrance to the business beginning at 8 a.m. with the intent of remaining onsite until 2 p.m. when the business closed. The protest was called off at 11 a.m. due to heavy rain and lightning in the area. 

Organizer Tulin Waters said, “It was not surprising that 90 percent of people going in did not have masks, nor did any of the employees. I did get threatened by a man saying he had a gun, and there were two private citizens with guns out watching the door.”

Middleton Police Captain Jeremy Geisler confirmed the department received a complaint about people carrying weapons, but reminded that Wisconsin is an open carry state, and there was nothing police could do if the individual had an open carry permit. He added that the protest was peaceful, and without incident.

Frieda Schowalter was one of the protesters on Saturday, and had also been at the business protesting on July 15.

“There’s only one reason I’m out here,” Schowalter said. “I’m a healthcare worker and I am all about preventing the spread of COVID-19. I’m not about politics, I’m not about religion.”

Schowalter said she is a healthcare professional and works at five different nursing homes in the area. “If I go into Helbachs and catch COVID-19, I could be asymptomatic and become a super spreader.”

She said some of the things she has heard people say is that the virus is a “hoax” or “I know that man, he doesn’t have COVID.”

She added that wearing a mask is not that hard and that businesses and individuals should be committed to the greater good of society. 

A handful of counterprotesters also showed up on Saturday, including a woman and her son, whom she would only identify by their first names, Taryn and Noah. When told by protesters that her sign stating, “My Body My Choice,” was a pro-choice slogan, she began repeatedly yelling, “I don’t kill babies.”

“Don’t listen to Trump. Don’t listen to Ted Nugent, he’s not a scientist,” yelled Ryan Englehardt who was playing drums at the protest.

When interviewed, Taryn explained, “They’re out here, so we have the right to be out here, too. Our freedom of speech is being taken away.”

Neither she or Noah had masks on and she said both had a medical exemption that does not require them to wear masks. She went on to say that it is not safe to wear a mask all day because the amount of Co2  individuals breathe in causes blood pressure to drop.

The mask order, which took effect on July 13, requires Dane County residents to wear a masks in public places, including businesses. According PHMDC in the first three days of the mandate,  they received 197 complaints about restaurants not complying–152 for Helbachs, alone. Sarah Mattes communications supervisor at PHMDC said the agency continued to receive complains about the business.

Earlier in the week, on July 15, Assistant District Attorney Marci Paulsen and PHMDC Lead Sanitarian Bonnie Koenig went to Helbachs to speak to the person in charge about a sign they had posted on Monday, which stated that those entering the business should remove masks.

“PHMDC had left messages and sent emails in an attempt to contact the owner or manager but received no response so that is why we made an onsite visit. We asked to speak to the person in charge and was directed to the owner. We attempted to provide education on the public health order and specifically on the requirement that all employees and customers wear masks while inside the establishment. We also asked the owner to post PHMDC’s signs. The owner refused to posts signs or agree to comply with the PH Order. He stated we were harassing him and contacted the police. We exited the building and waited for the police to respond,” Paulsen recalled of the incident.

Mattes said the business had been issued a citation for not following the order. The standard amount of the fine is $263.50

If they continue to disregard the order, the business can be shut down.

“To date three establishments have been issued citations. As far as the number I know, we have received hundreds of complaints but generally once we follow up with the business and provide further education we have received voluntary compliance. This is the first time I have had to go onsite to a business and this is the first time that I have had a business owner tell me they would not comply with the health order,” Paulsen said. 

The sign to which she referred read, "This is a Mask Free Zone. Please remove mask before entering."

Paulsen said she wanted the public to know that the county is taking the public health order and violations very seriously. She added that they county will be taking steps to ensure compliance with all public health orders to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Attempts to reach Helbachs to comment on the matter went unanswered.

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