Today Governor Tony Evers announced a statewide order mandating masks at all indoor spaces except for homes. The order takes effect at 12:01 am this Saturday.
The executive order mandates that all residents who are older than five must wear a mask when indoors or in enclosed spaces outside their homes, or face a $200 penalty. Masks are not required outdoors. Exceptions include eating, drinking, swimming, and people who have health conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks.
The announcement prompted an outcry from Republican legislators, who favor allowing counties and municipalities to set their own requirements. Governor Evers says that ship has sailed.
“This virus doesn’t care about any town, city or county boundary,” said Evers. “It doesn’t care whether you live in the Dodge County or Fond Du Lac County side of Waupon. It doesn’t care whether you’re perfectly healthy or young, and it doesn’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. I know there have been those who have demanded a piecemeal rather than a statewide approach. They’ve said we do not need a statewide effort to respond to this crisis. Well we tried their way. Folks, it’s not working.”
But enforcement of the order will still be up to local and state officials, and enforcement can be difficult.
Some county sheriffs, such as Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, refused to enforce Governor Evers’ safer-at-home executive order back in April. And today, Washburn County sheriff Dennis Stuart said his department will not enforce the mask order.
Jerry Deschane, the director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, says that this time around communities may be more willing to enforce the Governor’s order.
“I think there is a growing level of concern throughout the state that we don’t have this pandemic under control,” said Deschane. “And there are a lot of communities that a certain individual may not like wearing a mask or maybe a certain city leader may not like wearing a mask, he or she probably realizes that that is the best thing we can do to get things under control. So I think on that basis the level of acceptance for what the governor has done will be, perhaps, higher than it was for the stay-at-home order. But I have to say that’s speculation on my part.”
But that’s if the executive order stands and is not overruled. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement that Wisconsin shouldn’t have a statewide mandate, and called into question the constitutionality of the order. State Senator Steve Nass, a Republican from Whitewater, called for the state legislature to meet and pass a resolution ending the order, which he called illegal. The Republican legislature successfully challenged the Governor’s statewide stay-at-home order in the Wisconsin Supreme Court back in May.
If this order is challenged in court, it will likely also be heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is currently controlled by conservatives 5-2, but will shift to a 4-3 conservative court on Saturday. That’s when liberal-leaning Jill Karofsky, who beat out Justice Kelly in the spring election in April, will be seated on the court.
State Senator Van Wanggaard, a Republican from Racine, said that the timing was “transparent and blatantly political.” When asked by reporters about the timing, Evers denied that the changing makeup of the Supreme Court was a factor.
“The virus is the issue, it’s not Jill Karofsky,” said Evers. “We’ve been thinking about this for several weeks. Putting together two orders is not something that happens in 24 hours. And so we’ve been thinking about it, we’ve been following the data and we believe the way we approached this has good legal standing and also it just makes sense. Bottom line is: We need to keep people safe.”
Between yesterday and today, Wisconsin recorded an increase of 1,059 positive cases according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. That’s the second highest single-day increase since the pandemic began. According to DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm, the problem is that many counties exhibit signs of a high amount of spread.
“The likelihood of people transmitting and catching COVID-19 in the community is high unless everyone takes precautions together,” said Palm. “Between the data showing Wisconsin’s community spread and the science informing us that people can spread COVID-19 without even knowing it, we need to take every action possible to protect ourselves and our communities.”
Speaker Vos did not say whether or not the Republican legislature would be challenging the order in court, instead saying that he expects “legal challenges from citizen groups.”
Dane County and the City of Milwaukee have had a mask order nearly identical to the Governor’s order since mid-July. Today, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway commended the Governor’s order and said Republican leaders in the legislature have “abdicated their responsibility to protect the public from illness and death.”
The Governor’s order will expire near the end of September.
Reporting for WORT News, I’m Martin Rakacolli.