Gov. Tony Evers extended Wisconsin’s statewide mask mandate Friday and declared a renewed public health emergency in Wisconsin as hospitals urge for action.
The mask mandate requires anyone 5 years or older to wear a face covering when in an enclosed space with anyone outside of their immediate household. The orders are set to expire in 60 days unless revoked by lawmakers or replaced by a superseding order.
The latest order is the fourth time Evers has declared a public health emergency since the beginning of the pandemic. The mask mandate has now been enacted three times.
Evers stressed the urgency of Wisconsin’s current COVID-19 situation, citing widespread staffing shortages at hospitals.
“We continue to see record-setting days of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin. We need everyone to stay home and wear a mask if you have to go out. We need your help to stop the spread of this virus, and we all have to do this together,” Evers said in a press release Friday.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has yet to rule on Evers’ emergency powers used to issue the previous mask mandate which expired Saturday. If successful, the lawsuit would prohibit Evers from issuing similar orders in the future without the legislature’s approval, according to WPR.
Evers met Friday with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LaMahieu, R-Oostburg, after no progress was made during the week on COVID-19 legislation. Both the Governor’s spokeswoman and Vos called the meeting “productive.” Evers and Vos had last talked in May.
“It was a productive discussion and as expected, there were some issues we agreed upon and some that we didn’t,” Vos said in a press release. “Regardless, I see today’s conversation as a positive step forward to finding common ground in developing a more unified state response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Evers, Vos and LeMahieu are expected to meet again after Thanksgiving, but some Democrats, including Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., believe action is needed immediately.
Hospitals in crisis
Despite new talks among lawmakers, many healthcare workers remain critical of the state’s response to COVID-19. Health care workers union SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin voiced concern Wednesday.
“Wisconsin faces one of the worst COVID crises in the nation,” SEIU President Ramon Argandona said. “Inaction for more than half a year and during the worsening of the pandemic has been unacceptable — for those we have lost, for all those who have lost a loved one, for healthcare workers and all essential workers, for entire communities, and for the economic vitality of our state. We are still deep in this crisis nine months after its onset because of lawmakers’ failure to act.”
The worsening COVID-19 pandemic has left many Wisconsin hospitals without the resources needed to treat patients. According to the Department of Health Services (DHS), Wisconsin’s hospitals are at 87% bed capacity, with some even running out of morgue space for COVID-19 victims.
In a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Marshfield Clinic shared the challenges supervisor Theresa Weiler and her staff are facing as they care for COVID-19 patients at Marshfield Medical Center.
“We see patients coming into the [COVID-19] unit without oxygen, and their lips and fingers are blue,” Weiler said. “At the end of the day, I would go home and go straight to the shower. Part of this was to protect myself and my family, but the other part was so I could go cry in the shower and finally release for the day.”
Vonda Wielsma, a radiology nurse at UW-Health, said floors have “been a lot more busy” at the hospital.
“UW has been really responsive in trying to keep up,” said Wielsma. “They are doing a very good job with what’s going on, trying to keep ahead of it.”
On Sunday, UW Health also released an open letter to Wisconsinites urging them to take the pandemic seriously.
“Inside our hospitals, we have patients gasping for breath, needing a ventilator to survive and too often dying. Many of them were walking around healthy just days before. Some tell us they didn’t think COVID-19 was serious. Others say they just wanted to live their lives and get back to normal,” the letter, signed by hundreds of employees including Wielsma, read.