On Thursday, one hour after the Republican-controlled Assembly voted to kill the state’s COVID-19 public health emergency and mask mandate, Gov. Tony Evers issued a new COVID-19 public health emergency and mask mandate. The new public health emergency cites a “new, more contagious strains of the virus that causes COVID-19,” thus allowing for a new mask mandate. The new mask mandate goes into effect immediately, and expires on March 20, 2021. It will almost certainly be challenged in court. What. Is. Happening.
“We know that as we work to get shots in arms as quickly as we have vaccines available, no amount of vaccine in the world could bring back the lives we stand to lose if we have no statewide mitigation strategy in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” Evers said in a statement. “That’s why I am once again issuing a statewide public health emergency and order requiring face coverings. Wearing a mask is the most basic thing we can do to keep each other safe. Wearing a mask saves lives. Let’s keep working together, Wisconsin.”
Since the beginning of this pandemic, I promised I would:
1️⃣never play politics with your health
2️⃣trust and follow science and public health experts
3️⃣never stop doing everything I can to keep you healthy and safe
I haven’t broken those promises and I won’t start today. pic.twitter.com/kfN4J2aE2k
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) February 4, 2021
Like the old mask mandate, the new mask mandate requires Wisconsinites five years old or older to wear face coverings if they are in an enclosed space other than a private residence, and “if another person or persons who are not members of individual’s household or living unit are present in the same room or enclosed space.” Exceptions—like eating and drinking—are provided.
“Today’s action by Republicans in the Legislature is a continuation of Republicans’ efforts to prevent Gov. Evers from keeping Wisconsinites healthy and safe,” a statement from Evers’ office reads. “The governor’s statewide mitigation strategies to contain and respond to COVID-19 have been met with repeated lawsuits, political rhetoric, and obstruction from Republicans since last April. Republicans also sued Gov. Evers last spring, which ultimately led to a decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order in May, leaving the state without critical mitigation tools to protect health and safety used by other states. In total, Republicans in the Legislature this year alone have spent millions in taxpayer dollars in litigation to hamstring the state’s ability to respond to the ongoing pandemic rather than meet to address the issues facing Wisconsinites.”
At issue for Republicans, they have claimed, is not the lives of nearly 6,000 people dead in the state, or the lives of the half-million people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state. Instead, it’s Evers’ ability to extend a public health emergency past an initial 60-day period without the approval of the Legislature. Evers issued his original 60-day public health emergency—and with it a statewide mask mandate—on July 30, 2020. He extended it on September 22, citing “unprecedented, near exponential growth of the COVID-19 pandemic.” He extended it again on November 20 and January 19.
Prior to Thursday, 59 groups had registered their opposition to killing the mask mandate. The Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, the Wisconsin Assisted Living Association, and the Wisconsin Council of Churches were among those groups.
“Studies show that wearing masks helps slow the spread of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and that government requirements to wear masks correlates to reduced COVID-19 spread than in locations without such orders,” Wisconsin Medical Society CEO Bud Chumbley said in a press release. “We need to do all we can to prevent more deaths and help our economy return to normal.”
“The Governor’s mask mandate saves lives,” the Wisconsin Council of Churches said in a statement. “Ending it will cost lives.”
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