Wisconsin Makes It Unanimous: All States With Democratic Governors Have Mask Mandates

July 31, 2020 by Dan McCue
This image taken from video by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Madison, Wis. Evers issued a statewide mask mandate amid a spike in coronavirus cases. (Wisconsin Department of Health Services via the AP)

Wisconsin on Thursday became the latest state to impose a statewide face mask mandate, meaning all 24 states with a Democratic governor now have such a requirement in place.

By comparison, only 8 of the 26 states with Republican governors — Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia — have mask mandates.

Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday issued Wisconsin’s statewide mask mandate amid a spike in coronavirus cases, setting up a conflict with Republican legislative leaders and some conservatives who oppose such a requirement.

The same groups successfully sued to kill Evers “safer at home” order.

In May, the state Supreme Court overturned a stay-at-home order extension issued through the office of Wisconsin Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm on the grounds the order exceeded the authority of “one unelected official.”

Palm’s order had mandated all Wisconsin residents stay in their homes, not travel and closed all “non-essential” businesses. At the time, she was attempting to extend an order issued earlier in the pandemic.

“Palm’s Emergency Order … is declared unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable,” said the opinion written by conservative Chief Justice Patience Roggensack.

The ruling effectively meant it was up to the state’s 72 counties and local municipalities to manage their communities’ response to the coronavirus outbreak, creating a patchwork of different rules and policies across the state.

On Thursday, Evers declared a new public health emergency and ordered the wearing of masks for anyone over the age of 5 beginning this Saturday for all enclosed spaces except a person’s home.

The new order also applies to outdoor bars and restaurants, except when people are eating or drinking.

Anyone who violates the order would be subject to a $200 fine. It is scheduled to run until Sept. 28.

“This virus doesn’t care about any town, city, or county boundary, and we need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track,” Evers said in a statement, citing the recent rise in cases across the state.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he opposes a statewide mandate, but he indicated that he wouldn’t sue to stop it like he did the “safer at home” order.

“There are certainly constitutional questions here,” Vos said. “I would expect legal challenges from citizen groups.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, said he is currently gauging the interest of his caucus in reconvening the Legislature and voting down the order.

“Masks are fine, but we don’t need statewide mandates telling us what to do. Many people are wearing masks already,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.

Republican state Sen. Steve Nass, one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, called for lawmakers to meet in an emergency session to kill the order, which he called “illegal and unnecessary.”

Evers said he would welcome the Legislature meeting to address the pandemic, which it hasn’t done since mid-April. But he said it was a “sad commentary” that Nass wanted to reconvene just to kill the mask order.

“Obviously he doesn’t believe that masks matter,” Evers said. “That’s fine, he can be one of those people that flouts the order. But to come in and have the Republicans say essentially we don’t believe in science, it’s pretty risky business. It’s risky political business and risky health business.”

Wisconsin has had more than 52,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 919 deaths from the disease since the pandemic started. That death count is the 28th-highest in the country and the 35th highest per capita, at nearly 16 deaths per 100,000 people.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has gone up by 90, an increase of more than 11%.

“The bottom line is we need to keep people safe and this is one way to do it,” Evers said. “We hope the Supreme Court agrees with us. You never know, it may never end up in the Supreme Court.”

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