Gov. Tony Evers today declared a statewide public health emergency and issued an emergency order requiring individuals to wear face coverings in Wisconsin when indoors and not in a private residence.
Exceptions to the order include when an individual is eating, drinking, or swimming. Individuals with health conditions or disabilities who cannot wear a face covering safely are also exempt.
It goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 1, and will expire on Sept. 28 or by a subsequent superseding order.
“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,” Evers said in a 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.”
Evers cited recent "new and significant community spread and increase in cases of COVID-19," in Wisconsin, in justifying the action.
Currently, 61 of 72 counties are experiencing high COVID-19 activity. Evers called this "a dramatic increase" from where Wisconsin was in June, when only 19 of 72 counties were experiencing high COVID-19 activity.
The average number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 has also 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, 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.
Under the governor's order, Wisconsin residents ages five and older are required to wear a face covering when indoors or in an enclosed space with anyone outside their household or living unit. Face coverings are strongly recommended outdoors and where maintaining physical distancing is not possible.
“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,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said 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.”
Recent scientific studies show that wearing face coverings is very effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, officials said.
“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. “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 Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) issued the following statement in response to Evers' emergency declaration:
“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.”