Gov. Tony Evers declares public health emergency, issues statewide mask mandate
The increase of COVID cases around the state sparked the public health emergency.
Gov. Tony Evers Thursday, July 30 declared a Public Health Emergency and issued an Emergency Order requiring individuals to wear face coverings when indoors and not in a private residence, with some exceptions as clarified and defined in the order. MADISON -
The order is effective at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, and will expire on Sept. 28, 2020 or by a subsequent superseding order.
Under this order, Wisconsin residents ages 5 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.
“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 in a news release. “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.”
A release from the governor's office said 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."
The release noted Wisconsin has experienced a drastic rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the entire state, with 61 of 72 counties (84%) representing 96% of the state’s population experiencing high COVID-19 activity. All regions of Wisconsin have high COVID-19 activity levels, the release said, noting "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 release said.
“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 in the release. “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.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the medical and scientific community continues to learn more about the virus, including how to best prevent its transmission, the release noted. Recent scientific studies show that wearing face coverings is very effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“Staying home, limiting interactions, practicing physical distancing, and washing your hands thoroughly are still the most effective ways to stop the spread,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer and the state epidemiologist for communicable diseases in the release. “But we learn something new about this virus every day. A growing number of scientific studies tell us that face coverings, when used correctly and consistently by a large percentage of the community, are extremely effective for preventing the spread of COVID-19 through respiratory droplets.”
State and local leaders weigh in
Statement from WISPIRG Director Peter Skopec:
“We applaud Gov. Evers for taking this necessary step to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin — but it won’t be enough. More decisive action is necessary. Gov. Evers, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos must work together to put in place a new stay-at-home order, start over, and do it right this time." “Although we slowed the virus down in the spring, we moved too quickly to reopen without hitting key benchmarks to be able to squash future outbreaks. And now we’re facing the consequences. A federal government report puts Wisconsin in the ‘red zone’ for high COVID-19 activity.“Telling the hard truths and making the hard calls now will save more lives later. More than 1,000 health professionals nationwide, including some of the foremost experts in the country, have now signed our open letter to America’s decision-makers urging a new shut-down." “Wisconsin’s leaders should close non-essential businesses. People should stay home until the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is at 2 percent or lower on average statewide. Health experts agree that’s low enough that they’d feel confident the current outbreak is under control.“However, even when the positivity rate hits 2 percent or lower, the state should not start reopening again unless we meet additional important criteria laid out by health experts. This includes greater daily testing capacity; a workforce of contact tracers large enough to trace all current cases; and enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep essential workers safe.”
Statement from Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt:
"The Dodge County Sheriff’s Office has seen the press release from the Governor and the Sheriff would like to provide the citizens of our county feedback after careful analysis of the mandate. Our on-duty staff will be directed to comply with the mask mandate with the understanding that several exceptions permit them to not always have a mask on. They will also be asked to voluntarily comply with the order while off duty. Voluntary compliance by the public is of course the avenue we have asked of our citizens in all matters during the pandemic and that has not changed. We encourage everyone to take precautions to keep themselves and others safe. We also understand and recognize different viewpoints and we are doing everything we can to protect people from becoming sick, while also protecting the individual rights of our citizens." "The Dodge County Sheriff’s Office has identified some significant challenges for enforcement of this mandate, as there are one again many loopholes, which are open to interpretation. Furthermore, there are medical reasons and other legitimate reasons why someone may not be required to wear a mask and we must be aware of that as well. Finally, there are certainly concerns with other legalities." "In fact, Governor Evers guided the public on what to do if you see someone not wearing a mask. The Governor’s guidance is that you should do nothing as some people have conditions or circumstances that would make wearing a cloth face-covering difficult or dangerous. He advises to just wear your mask and stay six feet away." "As a result of the legal difficulties with this order, the limited staffing we have available to enforce the mandate, and the Governor’s direction that the public should do nothing if they see someone wearing a mask, we are asking that you NOT contact the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office to report incidents where someone is not wearing a mask. Dodge County Sheriff’s Deputies will not be responding to or investigating these incidents. Thank you for your time and everyone to please be safe and stay healthy."
Statement from Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul:
“Increasing the use of masks means fewer COVID-19 cases, more lives saved, a faster economic recovery, and less interruption of schools,” said AG Kaul. “This new policy is a significant, positive step in the fight against the coronavirus.”
Statement from State Senator Duey Stroebel (R–Cedarburg):
“There is no new emergency. The Governor declared, and the Legislature did not interfere with, a full 60 day COVID emergency from March through May. If a Governor can declare multiple states of emergency for a single event, that is an astonishing grant of power to one man. The data on hospitalizations and the death rate do not justify this intrusion into personal, family and community affairs. The Governor wishing to pander to his liberal base, or scare voters before an election, does not justify circumventing the people’s representatives to achieve a policy he knows would not have the votes to become law.” “The people of Wisconsin are smart, compassionate and full of common sense. They know when to take precautions for themselves or neighbors and when the hyper-literal enforcement of a universal rule written in Madison would be foolish. Tony Evers and his liberal supporters once again proposes a course of action to centralize power in Madison under the belief Wisconsinites can’t survive without Big Brother.” “I call on my colleagues in the Legislature to convene as soon as possible to rescind this power grab.”
Statement from State Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee):
"I am incensed by this governor’s latest attempt to subvert the ability of Wisconsin citizens, local governments, businesses and religious organizations to make their own decisions. I believe these decisions are best made at the local level because they know what is best for themselves and for their families. It comes down to freedom and personal responsibility, and unlike Gov. Evers, I support freedom and trust the people of Wisconsin." “To that end, I will do whatever I can do as a representative of the people of this state to fight this action. Enough is enough.”
Statement from Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson:
“Thank you, Governor Evers, for listening to the public health experts who have been telling us that the most important thing we can do to limit the spread of Covid-19 is to wear a facemask. The governor’s emergency order empowers local public health officers to protect public health by enforcing the facemask requirement in their communities. I urge all municipal public health officers in Milwaukee County to publicly declare that they will enforce the governor’s order."
Statement from State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine):
“You can’t legislate common sense. For that reason, I continue to strongly oppose the one-size- fits all approach of Governor Evers’ response to coronavirus in this state, including the statewide mask mandate. It’s transparent and blatantly political that his order doesn’t take effect until his handpicked Supreme Court justice take office." "At a time when liberals across Wisconsin are trying to prevent arrests and fines for actual crimes committed, the last thing law enforcement needs to do is enforce mask wearing. It is the definition of misplaced priorities. This is especially true given the under-reporting of negative cases in at least two counties with high infection rates." "I can understand why some businesses are requiring masks. That is their choice, just as it is my choice to do business elsewhere. That’s what America is about. But no one is going to make me wear a mask in my house, or walking my dog. That is also what America is about - free choice."
Statements from health care workers and members of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin:
“Since this pandemic began, healthcare workers have been organizing and pushing for elected leaders to do their part to stand with us on the front lines. We thank Governor Evers for hearing the call of healthcare workers and joining with us to pass common sense solutions. This mask ordinance shows that the Governor honors the sacrifices that nurses, hospital workers, nursing home workers, and first responders have made, risking our own health and that of our families. We will continue to do all we can to protect our patients and the public during this pandemic. It helps knowing that Governor Evers is on our side to do whatever it takes.” - Ramon Argandona, Madison hospital worker and President of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin “As a nurse who cares deeply about the safety of my patients and community, I feel so relieved to hear about Gov. Evers’ order. I feel safer going into my job knowing that we have a consistent statewide approach. Without a doubt, this will help protect our patients and keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed. We know that wearing masks in public will reduce the spread of the virus. With cases and hospitalizations increasing, this is a big step forward to protect public safety and combat COVID-19.” - Allison Sorg, registered nurse at a Madison hospital and SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin member “This is absolutely necessary. We’ve seen how COVID-19 has devastated the Black community in Milwaukee and across the country. By requiring that everyone in our state wears a mask in public, Gov. Evers lets us know he is committed to curbing inequities laid bare by the virus and protecting public health for all Wisconsinites.” - Gertrude Murray, CNA in Milwaukee and SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin member
Statement from Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine):
“These new orders are a critical step as our state continues to respond to a significant spike in new COVID-19 cases,” Neubauer said. “Although we are facing the same pandemic, the situation across our state has radically changed since March. Our community-by-community piecemeal approach, in place since May, has not been effective in containing this virus. We need immediate statewide action to protect the lives and health of Wisconsinites, and I am glad Governor Evers is stepping forward with these new orders.” “As we respond to this crisis, it is critical to follow the latest guidance from public health experts and scientists. The latest studies have shown that wearing a mask is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from person to person and save lives. Public health is a team sport: My mask protects you, your mask protects me, and when we work together, we can make a positive impact against this pandemic.”
Statement from State Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee):
“The people spoke, our Governor listened. Today, Governor Evers took bold action to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin by issuing a statewide face covering order. This practical, science-based approach will save lives, prevent undue stress on our healthcare system, and boost our economy. The vast majority of our Wisconsin neighbors support this decision." “This week, my office began circulating a petition to gauge the level of support for a mask mandate. The response was overwhelming. As of Thursday morning, the petition had drawn over 16,000 signatures from every corner of Wisconsin, red districts and blue districts alike. In fact, once my district was excluded, Republican Senate Districts average more signatures than Democratic Districts. Four out of five signers are from outside Milwaukee with several hundred different municipalities represented." “Governor Evers’ action will help Wisconsin reverse recent trends, which have seen confirmed COVID-19 cases climb to over 50,000, deaths to over 900, and has produced dozens of new hospitalizations each day. Given the severity of the pandemic and the statewide support for this order, I am hopeful that my Republican colleagues will forgo any further partisan legal challenges. Science shouldn’t be partisan: Wisconsinites want to be safe and want to prevent another shutdown." “We didn’t need to be the 34th state to act in this fashion. The fact is, Republicans in the legislature could have reached across the aisle to get this done long ago. Like the Trump administration, Wisconsin Republicans have dropped the ball regarding the pandemic since the very beginning." “Mandatory face coverings are a great first step but it will take every one of us, working together, to beat this disease and get back to doing the things we all love to do together. I want to thank each of the thousands of neighbors who signed our petition. Your voice was heard loud and clear and we encourage them to keep speaking out about the issues that matter most.”
Statement from Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley:
"Today, Governor Tony Evers announced an official statewide mask mandate requiring Wisconsin residents, with notable exceptions to wear masks or face coverings when indoors and not in a private residence, with some exceptions as clarified and defined in the order. The order comes as Wisconsin is set to be officially added to the City of Chicago’s 14-day self-quarantine order this week, requiring anyone travel or returning to the city from one of currently 22 states to self-isolate upon their arrival. Just this week, Wisconsin topped over 50,000 total confirmed cases statewide, and more than 900 deaths due to COVID-19." “I agree with Governor Evers’ statewide approach to getting Wisconsin, and Milwaukee County, back on track to fully reopening safely. For places like Milwaukee County, where there is no health department and no authority to implement measures like a countywide mask mandate, orders that vary from each municipality serve as a detriment in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. We never thought we’d see cities add Wisconsin to their 14-day self-quarantine lists or witness the number of COVID-19 cases rise to their current totals, but the time is now to do all we can to reverse these alarming trends. We need the public to do its part in protecting themselves and others by practicing physical distancing, wearing a mask, and washing their hands. While these are inconvenient and challenging at times, these are behaviors we must make habits.” "Under the Emergency 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 for residents outdoors and maintaining physical distancing is not possible. A frequently asked questions (FAQ) document is available here." "Health system-based testing remains available to anyone with symptoms regardless of insurance, income or immigration status by simply calling 2-1-1. Additionally, the Wisconsin National Guard is still conducting free COVID-19 testing for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals at Custer Stadium at Barack Obama High School of Career and Technical Education and UMOS, Inc.. Drive-thru and walk-up testing are available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday - Thursday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday. No appointment is needed, and you can check-in online once on-site."
Statement from Rose Oswald Poels, president/CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association:
“Governor Evers’ executive order requiring face coverings offers certainty to banks and businesses across the state. For those financial institutions that had been operating in multiple jurisdictions under differing rules, this provides a uniform set of parameters for everyone to operate under. We also want to remind the public that each bank will have different procedures for identifying customers using their lobby. While complying with the governor’s executive order, customers may be asked to: Lower their mask for a few seconds while facing a security camera Lower their mask for a few seconds to allow staff to identify them Answer security/identification verification questions (similar to using phone banking services) Use the drive-through if they are unwilling or unable to comply with the bank’s guidelines for masks We encourage consumers to contact their bank directly with specific questions about wearing masks and/or other face coverings in the branch.”
Statement from Washington County Executive Josh Schoemann:
"Today’s new public health emergency puts Wisconsin on a dangerous road. Make no mistake, this order is way broader than a mandatory mask policy." "The media is already ensuring today’s mask mandate is a Trojan horse. Evers grabbed the broad powers of another public health emergency then issued a mask mandate." "With many businesses and organizations across Washington County already requiring masks, this unnecessary power grab adds to the fear which is plaguing our county, state and nation. Another public health emergency gives the governor all the tools he needs to close schools, mandate virtual learning, issue another safer-at-home order or worse." "Governor Evers says in his public health emergency that high risk levels of COVID-19 outbreaks will prevent the full reopening of school. Either the governor needs to commit to ensuring schools have the resources to fully reopen in September or the legislature needs to immediately act." "As a former school board president, I know firsthand there are too many negative lifelong impacts for our children if we have a closure or even virtual operation of schools. As an executive for a county, I want my citizens to be safe. Opening the door to more closures and economic ruin will do irreparable harm, especially to our most vulnerable citizens."
Statement from Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson:
"I want to applaud Governor Tony Evers for taking the necessary step of declaring a Public Health Emergency and issuing an Emergency Order requiring individuals to wear face coverings. The order, which goes into effect August 1st, requires individuals to wear face coverings when indoors and not in a private residence, with some exceptions." "The science in support of wearing masks is clear, and this is why the Council unanimously passed the MKE Cares and Masks for All legislation introduced by Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. Today’s decision by the Governor will help protect the safety and well-being of residents throughout the state, just as we have taken steps to protect residents in Milwaukee." "As of Wednesday, July 29 Milwaukee has seen 14,337 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the number of confirmed cases in Milwaukee County is creeping closer to 20,000. We know COVID-19 continues to affect urban areas across the country, but rural areas are seeing an impact as well. In a story published today by Wisconsin Public Radio it was noted that Iron County in northern Wisconsin has the state's highest rate of active COVID-19 infections. The story continues to state that four rural Wisconsin counties (Iron, Juneau, Langlade and Menominee) are the only counties in the state to have more active cases than recovered ones." "Such data indicates the need for masks in ALL areas of Wisconsin. Everyone has a role to play in defeating this virus, and today’s decision is a step toward doing just that." "Milwaukee residents can receive a mask free of charge by visiting the following sites: Keenan Health Center, 3200 N. 36th Street, Monday –Friday from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Northwest Health Center, 7630 W. Mill Road, Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 1p.m. Southside Health Center, 1639 S. 23rd Street, Monday –Friday from 8 a.m. – 1p.m. Any of the 42 CITGO gas stations in Milwaukee courtesy of VISIT Milwaukee and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce."
Statement from Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield):
“Once again, Governor Evers has overstepped his authority in an unconstitutional attempt to limit people’s freedoms by issuing this mask order. It is a clear abuse of his emergency declaration powers in an attempt to manufacture fear and panic. This power grab should disturb Wisconsinites as our out of touch governor continues to try and force submission to the heavy hand of government." "The fact is, according to the most recently available data, only 60 people in a state of nearly 6 million people are in the ICU for COVID-19, which means our hospital COVID units are nowhere near being overrun. Wisconsin should be touting that we are beating the virus, and the message should be that there is light at the end of this tunnel. Even though positive tests are increasing, the number of people getting sick from the virus is minimal, and there is currently little threat to our hospital systems." "The main concern has always been ensuring our hospitals have the capacity to treat those that are truly sick. Our efforts have always been targeted at controlling the spread, not eliminating it." "Senate Republicans will be discussing options with our legal team. Once we gain a better understanding, I will be pushing for immediate action to strike down the mandate. It isn’t necessary; it isn’t warranted; and it isn’t backed by the data." "Governor Evers has a pattern of taking unilateral action while fully knowing these actions violate the laws that govern us. Perhaps if we printed the Wisconsin Constitution on a facemask, the governor would finally understand the concept of separation of powers and actually attempt to work with the legislative branch.”
Statement from Assembly Democratic Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh):
“I appreciate Governor Evers taking proactive action to help keep people safe and keep our economy open. While there is so much we still don’t know about COVID-19, we do know that wearing a mask indoors can help reduce the spread of the virus. It’s important to remember that we control what happens with COVID-19 in our state. We can protect each other through individual actions like wearing a mask, good hand hygiene, and practicing social distancing that can dramatically decrease the spread of COVID-19,” Rep. Hintz stated. “I recognize that wearing a mask takes some getting used to, but if we want to save lives, keep our economy open and maintain the hope of in-person school this fall, it is a pretty small sacrifice to make.”
Statement from Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton):
“Thanks to Governor Evers for demonstrating the kind of leadership that will see us through this pandemic. We’ve been listening to the scientific advice about how to slow to rate of infection from this deadly virus and there’s just no denying that masks provide a clear defense against contracting and spreading this disease. At the end of the day, this issue should not be political. We need to help protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our community,” said Representative Dianne Hesselbein, a staunch advocate of public health. Governor Evers Public Health Emergency Order will go into effect on Saturday, August 1, 2020. People five years of age and older will be required to wear a face covering indoors, with the exception of their private residence. “I would hope that my Republican colleagues would agree that the health and safety of Wisconsinites should be our first priority. I would also hope that they don’t add to their already $4 million, tax payer funded, legal bill they’ve already racked up trying to cement their power and endanger people’s lives. Let’s all be smart, put on a mask, and stop COVID-19.”