Wisconsin residents will now be required to wear face coverings indoors as part of a public health emergency declaration made by Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday as COVID-19 continues to spread across the state.
The mask order will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday and will expire on Sept. 28. Thursday’s order has drawn mixed reactions from state and local leaders.
Beloit City Council President Regina Dunkin said she fully supports the measure, adding that COVID-19 “has taken too many lives” in Wisconsin and across the country.
“We are thankful for this action to help keep our community safe from COVID-19,” Dunkin said.
“This face covering requirement will help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 throughout our state,” said Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther. “COVID-19 does not know municipal boundaries, and we are thankful for a consistent rule throughout Wisconsin to help stop the spread of this coronavirus.”
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said he was “confident” Rock County residents would comply with Evers’ order, with Rock County Board Chair Kara Purviance calling the choice to require masks “difficult but necessary.”
“Putting the responsibility of such a mandate on individual cities and counties would have been ineffective in preventing further exposure to this deadly virus,” Purviance said. “It is so important now, more than ever, that we all do our part. Let’s all be good neighbors and wear our masks for the well-being of Rock County.”
State Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, called masks “a critical component” to the statewide COVID-19 response.
“If we have any hope of keeping businesses afloat and sending kids back to school safely, we must do everything we can to slow the spread of the virus in Wisconsin,” Spreitzer said. “The science is clear, and I am glad that Governor Evers took action.”
State Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, noted the recent spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin is cause for concern.
“Four of the five counties I represent in the 15th Senate District are categorized has having high levels of COVID activity, including Rock County,” Ringhand said. “Our doctors and public health experts have stated that a mask mandate will help us get the pandemic under control and I will listen to them and support the Governor’s executive order.”
State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, however, called on GOP state leaders to call the Legislature back into session to take action against the emergency order, calling the governor’s actions “illegal and unnecessary.”
A portion of the order also directs the Wisconsin National Guard to assist the state in ensuring smooth operations for the Aug. 11 primary election.
“Governor Evers actions today are nothing more than a political stunt to create a partisan fight with the Legislature,” Nass said. “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 Department of Health Services (DHS) 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.”
A spokesperson for State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, said she was unavailable as of press time Thursday to comment.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he “would expect legal challenges from citizen groups” following Evers’ actions.
“Local governments have been responding appropriately and increasing precautionary measures as needed,” Vos said. “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.”
Under this order, those 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.
“We need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track,” Evers said. “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.”
The latest public health declaration by Evers comes as 61 of 72 counties (84%) in Wisconsin are experiences high levels of COVID-19 activity, up from last month when 19 of 72 counties (26%) were experiencing high COVID-19 activity. The total number of COVID-19 cases across the state also increased steadily in July. Between July 1-7 the state reported an average of 556 new cases each day; an average of 764 new cases between July 8-14; an average of 890 new cases each day between July 15-21; and an average of 938 new cases each day between July 22-26, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Health (DHS).
Rock County reported five new COVID-19 cases and one additional virus-related death on Thursday, bringing the countywide total to 1,330 cases and 26 deaths.
The Rock County Public Health Department estimates 249 active cases are present in the county as 1,055 people have recovered and 22,856 have tested negative.
In the Rock County area, Dane County reported 4,007 cases and 35 deaths; Green County reported 121 cases and one death; and Walworth County reported 1,142 cases and 21 deaths, DHS data shows.
Wisconsin reported 1,059 new cases and eight additional virus-related death on Thursday, bringing the statewide total to 52,108 cases and 919 deaths. DHS estimates that 9,852 cases remain active in the state as 41,319 (79.3%) people have recovered. A total of 867,602 people have tested negative in Wisconsin.