This afternoon Governor Tony Evers issued an emergency health order mandating the wearing of face masks throughout the state. The order is effective at 12:01 AM Saturday, August 1 and remains in effect until September 28 or until replaced by a new order.

The order mandates wearing masks when indoors and not in a private residence, with some exceptions outlined in the order. 

Under this order, Wisconsin residents ages five and older are required to wear a face-covering when they are indoors or in an enclosed space with anyone outside their household or living unit. Face coverings are strongly recommended if you are outdoors and maintaining physical distancing is not possible. The order also enumerates exceptions to the requirement, listing activities such as when an individual is eating, drinking, or swimming. Individuals with health conditions or disabilities that would preclude the wearing of a face-covering safely are also exempt from the requirement. A frequently asked questions (FAQ) document is available here.

“While our local health departments have been doing a heck of a job responding to this pandemic in our communities, the fact of the matter is, this virus doesn't care about any town, city, or county boundary, and we need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track,” said Gov. Evers. “We’ve said all along that we’re going to let science and public health experts be our guide in responding to this pandemic, and we know that masks and face coverings will save lives. While I know emotions are high when it comes to wearing face coverings in public, my job as governor is to put people first and to do what's best for the people of our state, so that's what I am going to do.”

Wisconsin is seeing new and significant community spread and increase in cases of COVID-19 which requires that we declare a new public health emergency and require face coverings. Wisconsin has experienced a drastic rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the entire state, with 61 of 72 counties (84 percent) representing 96 percent of the state’s population experiencing high COVID-19 activity. All regions of Wisconsin have high COVID-19 activity levels. This is a dramatic increase from where Wisconsin was in June, when only 19 of 72 counties (26%) were experiencing high COVID-19 activity.  

The average number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 has drastically increased throughout July, with an average of 556 new cases each day between July 1-7, an average of 764 new cases each day between July 8-14 (a 37% increase from the previous week), an average of 890 new cases each day between July 15-21 (a 16% increase from the previous week), and an average of 938 new cases each day between July 22-26 (a 5% increase from the previous week).

“The data is what drives our decisions, and that data tells us we have significant community spread in Wisconsin and need to take statewide action,” said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “Community spread means that any interaction out in the community can mean exposure, and because people can spread COVID-19 without symptoms or even knowing they are sick, we need to take universal precautions in order for wearing face coverings to be effective.”

Further details will be available in the media briefing at 1:30 today. This is a breaking story and will be updated throughout the day.

It is impossible not to take note that this new mandate takes place on the same day that the new State Supreme Court justice Jill Karofsky will be sworn in, making the balance of the Supreme Court slightly less conservative. The original Safer at Home order from the DHS was overturned by the Supreme Courty by one vote. 

As expected, reactions from state politicians are falling along party lines. State Senator Steve Nass (R - Whitewater) called for the legislature to come back into session to fight the executive order:

I am calling on Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to immediately call the Legislature back into session to pass a joint resolution ending Governor Evers’ new illegal and unnecessary emergency declaration. The Legislature is empowered to end any emergency declaration issued by a Governor through the simple passage of a joint resolution that doesn’t require the Governor’s approval.

Governor Evers actions today are nothing more than a political stunt to create a partisan fight with the Legislature. This is not about improving public health. Today’s emergency declaration is all about the November election and the weak performance of Democrats in this state.

Since March, the actions of Governor Evers and Secretary-Designee Palm have solidified both of them as the two least trustful people that have served in state government in my entire time in the Legislature. I can’t legally or morally trust either of these individuals with emergency powers.

The governor was asked about that statement in today's media briefing and whether he welcomed input from the legislature. He answered "Hell yes - the legislature could have come into session on this at any time".

Speaker Robin Vos (R - Rochester) also issued a statement this afternoon, saying

“I understand the necessity of doing all that we can to control the spread of COVID-19. We all know it’s serious. People have lost loved ones, businesses are struggling to survive and this ‘new normal’ for families is stressful and exhausting.

“Local governments have been responding appropriately and increasing precautionary measures as needed. But Wisconsin shouldn’t have a one-size-fits-all mandate. It doesn’t build public support when there are questions surrounding the metrics and the constitutionality of this mandate.

“It’s disappointing that yet again Governor Evers has chosen to not communicate or work with the legislature. There are certainly constitutional questions here; I would expect legal challenges from citizen groups.”

On the Democratic side, State Senator Dave Hanson issued a statement saying:

“It is refreshing to see an elected official put the health and safety of the people above their personal political ambitions. Governor Evers has shown courage in stepping into what has become a highly politicized debate that others have refused to address for fear doing so might hurt their political prospects.

“As he has shown since the beginning of the pandemic, Governor Evers is continuing to put the health and safety of all Wisconsinites first and foremost. Wearing a mask is not a political statement. In fact, a large majority of Americans support requiring people to wear masks in public. They, like Governor Evers, understand that this order is what needs to be done to stem this pandemic and keep ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbors safe. Slowing down the virus is also the best way to restore and strengthen our economy.

“I encourage everyone to do the right thing and put a mask on when out in public. Together we can stem the virus and move our state forward.” Wisconsin joins 31 other states and the District of Columbia in implementing a mask mandate. According to a recent analysis, if 95% of people wear cloth masks when they're interacting with other people, it reduces transmission by at least 30%. 

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Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Association, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley



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