Gov. Tony Evers announced a new public health emergency and issued a new face mask order Tuesday, citing a surge in cases on college campuses throughout Wisconsin and quickly drawing fire from Republicans and conservative groups in the state.
Executive Order 90 is the third declaration of a public health emergency in the state since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Evers’ previous emergency declaration, issued on July 30, was set to expire on Sept. 28 along with the mask mandate.
Evers also issued an emergency order requiring Wisconsin residents five and older to wear a face covering when they are indoors or in an enclosed space with anyone outside their household. The order supersedes any local order that is less restrictive, but local governments may issue orders that are more restrictive.
Evers’ press release cited data that showed eight Wisconsin cities were listed among the top 20 U.S. cities with rising cases. Six of those eight cities have UW-System campuses — UW-La Crosse, UW-Whitewater, UW-Green Bay, UW-Platteville, UW-Madison and UW-Oshkosh — according to WTMJ-TV. The case rate among 18 to 24-year-olds is five times higher than any other age group.
According to Tuesday New York Times data, La Crosse, Platteville, Stevens Point, Oshkosh-Neenah and Green Bay are all among the 20 metro areas with the greatest number of new cases in the last two weeks.
“The current surge among young people is concerning, but it is important to remember that this increase in cases is not confined to college campuses,” said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “Students come to these campuses from across the state, and we worry about the effect their return from an area with a high infection rate could have on their home communities.”
Evers urged young people to help stop the spread of the virus.
“We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus. We need folks to start taking this seriously, and young people especially — please stay home as much as you are able, skip heading to the bars and wear a mask whenever you go out,” Evers said.
Both orders will remain in effect for 60 days, until Nov. 21, unless they are revoked by a superseding order.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty previously challenged Evers’ second emergency order, which implemented the state’s first mask mandate, alleging the governor cannot seize emergency powers more than once to address the same emergency. WILL President Rick Esenberg responded to Evers’ orders Tuesday.
“Governor Evers and his team believe the presence of COVID-19 supersedes the rule of law and our state constitution. They are wrong. Letting this gross abuse of power stand is not an option,” Esenberg wrote in a tweet.
Republican lawmakers were swift to criticize Evers’ new declarations. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, called the order “not valid” and “not worth the paper it’s printed on.”
“The Wisconsin Supreme Court made it clear that if Governor Evers wishes to continue to impose sanctions, mandates and restrictions on the citizens of this state, he must work with the legislature to do so. That has not happened,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “Governor Evers’ order is moot, illegal, invalid and almost assuredly headed for litigation.”
The State Supreme Court struck down Evers’ “stay-at-home” order in May, which led to patchwork local approaches in handling the pandemic.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, called the order “illegal” and said there will “undoubtedly” be more court challenges. Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, echoed other Republicans who are willing to vote to repeal the mask mandate.
“Wisconsin’s recent spike in COVID infections is almost entirely driven by 18-24 year olds on college campuses and has exclusively occurred while Evers’ mask mandate has been in effect,” Wanggaard said in a press release.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, called on Fitzgerald and Vos to call the legislature back into session to pass a joint resolution to end the emergency declaration. According to Molly Beck from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, legislative aides did not respond to questions Tuesday about a potential vote to cancel the order.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said in a tweet Tuesday that continuing the mask mandate will help Oshkosh, which is one of the cities with the fastest growing case counts. Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, also supported Evers’ orders.
“I am grateful to Governor Evers for protecting the people of our state, and I encourage Wisconsinites to mask up to slow the spread,” Spreitzer said in a statement.
The Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards and the Wisconsin Public Health Association supported Evers’ new face covering requirement.
“Today’s order helps to prevent a dire situation from becoming worse. We’ve said it before: masking is not a partisan political issue; it is a public health necessity,” the groups said in a statement.
Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s Chief Medical Office and State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases, also encouraged Wisconsinites to wear masks, practice physical distancing and get flu shots.
“The flu shot cannot protect you from COVID-19, but by helping protect you from the flu, it helps strengthen our COVID-19 response here in Wisconsin by preserving hospital and testing capacity,” Westergaard stated in Evers’ announcement.
state news writer