The Wisconsin Senate passed a resolution Tuesday that would kill the state’s mask mandate—a mandate put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19. In order for the resolution to go into effect, the Wisconsin Assembly would need to pass it as well. The Assembly has indicated it will vote on the matter this Thursday.
The Senate voted 18-13 to kill the mask mandate, with all but two Republicans—Sen. Dale Kooyenga and Sen. Rob Cowles—joining Democrats in voting against the resolution.
The resolution cannot be vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers.
If—oh, let’s be honest, when—the mask mandate is officially dead, Wisconsin will be among only a handful of states with no mask mandate or COVID-19 emergency order. Any local mask mandates throughout the state—such as the City of Milwaukee’s mask mandate—will remain in effect.
At issue for Republicans is not the nearly 6,000 people dead in the state thanks to COVID-19, or the lives of the half-million people in the state who have tested positive for COVID-19, but Evers’ powers to issue and extend emergency orders. Or, in language that should be a comfort to the families of the nearly 6,000 people dead in the state, the “integrity of the legislative powers authorized under the Wisconsin Constitution and the integrity of this republican form of government.”
“This is not about whether face masks are good or bad,” Sen. Stephen Nass said during Tuesday’s proceedings. “This is about repeatedly issuing emergency orders contrary to what the law allows.”
Evers issued the original 60-day mask mandate via Executive Order #82 on July 30, 2020. He extended the measure on September 22, citing “unprecedented, near exponential growth of the COVID-19 pandemic.” He extended the measure again on November 20 and January 19.
The 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.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, 24 groups had registered in opposition to Republicans’ move to kill 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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