In his primetime address on Tuesday, Governor Tony Evers used his time on the air to introduce a new executive order to curb Wisconsin’s recent surge of COVID-19.
“Our case numbers continue to climb. Since just last Friday, we’ve added more than 25,000 new cases. It took us seven and a half months to get to 100,000 cases. But it only took 36 days to add another 100,000. The way things are going, it will take us only 20 days to reach another 100,000,” Evers said.
The order includes familiar recommendations for Wisconsinites: social distance, avoid group gatherings, and wear a mask. It also recommends businesses put a cap on the number of patrons allowed inside, and encourages working from home.
While these are many of the same recommendations from past executive orders, this order lacks the power to enforce what it advises.
The Governor’s past attempts to include enforcement mechanisms were, and continue to be challenged by the State legislature. Back in May, a lawsuit filed by the legislature succeeded in repealing the stay-at-home order, which brought new challenges to his administration’s development of a proper response.
“As you know, earlier this year, we took steps to contain COVID-19 by issuing a safer at home order. We estimated then that our efforts would save between 300 and 1,400 lives. That order was struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court—a decision that hamstrung our ability to respond to this virus by using the tools supported by science and public health experts,” Evers said.
A lawsuit aimed at rolling back the statewide mask mandate is set to be argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court next week.
Besides challenging these orders, the State Legislature has done little to address the issues faced by Wisconsinites as a result of the pandemic. They have not convened since mid-April, when they passed a coronavirus response bill. A recent review of full-time state legislatures across the nation found that the Wisconsin’s legislature has been the least active.
After last week’s election, Republican leadership in the state legislature has changed slightly. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has kept his position, while Devin LeMahieu of Oostburg will replace Scott Fitzgerald as Majority Leader in the state Senate. Fitzgerald will head to Washington, D.C. after being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last Tuesday.
Slight changes in leadership may bring about new conversations on the pandemic response. It might also bring new challenges.
Andrea Palm has acted as Evers’ Secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, having never been officially confirmed by the legislature.
Some State Senators have called for Palm’s firing, mostly due to her attempt to implement the stay-at-home order back in spring.
The GOP-led legislature has fired a member of the Governor’s cabinet before. In November 2019, the state Senate fired then-DATCP Secretary Brad Pfaff.
Governor Evers did not address the legislature directly in last night’s address. Instead, he called for unity and action.
“The surges we see—the new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths—these are not foregone conclusions. These are predictable and preventable. That means the fight against this virus is winnable, but only if we fight it together,” Evers said.