Dane County’s indoor mask mandate went into effect today.
The mandate, announced earlier this week by Public Health Madison and Dane County, requires anyone older than 2 to wear a face covering while indoors with people outside their household. There are a few exceptions, such as when you’re eating or drinking, or receiving dental work. The order is planned to remain in effect until September 16th.
PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich said in an announcement on Tuesday that the mask mandate is essential, as the Delta variant is causing a new wave of cases in Wisconsin.
“We’ve done it before, and we can do it again. This simple step in combination with our best tool, vaccination, will only further help keep people safe, including children under 12 that are not yet eligible for vaccines. Given just how contagious Delta is proving to be, we must employ our best tools to stop further spread,” says Heinrich.
The state’s rolling, seven-day average of new cases currently stands at 1,223 cases per day.
Just over 50% of Wisconsin residents and 68% of Dane County residents are fully vaccinated, but PHMDC says that since vaccinated people can still spread the Delta variant to others, masking up regardless of vaccination status is important.
However, the new mask mandate is already being challenged by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a conservative law firm. Yesterday, WILL filed a lawsuit to stop the order and asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to immediately put a hold on the mandate until the case is done.
WILL says local health authorities like Heinrich do not have the power to issue a mask mandate, relying on a state Supreme Court decision from June finding that Heinrich overstepped her authority by shutting down schools last fall. Dan Lennington is a Deputy Counsel for WILL.
“Our position in the lawsuit is that she doesn’t have the specific power to order a mask mandate because she’s not been given that power by the state legislature. And so for the same reason that she doesn’t have the power to close schools, she also doesn’t have the power to issue a mask mandate,” says Lennington.
WORT reached out to PHMDC for comment on the lawsuit. In an email, a PHMDC spokesperson said, quote: “We are confident that our face covering order is legal.” They declined to offer further comment.
The state Supreme Court has not yet indicated whether it will take the case first, or whether the case will start at a lower circuit court. It has also not indicated whether it will issue an emergency injunction to put an immediate stop to the mask mandate.
Reporting for WORT news, I’m Seeger Gray.
PHOTO: Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty