Author: Jessica Gregory
Gov. Tony Evers responded to the Wisconsin Assembly’s decision to remove the state’s only legal measure to combat COVID-19 by immediately issuing a new public health emergency order Thursday.
The announcement came an hour after the Wisconsin Assembly ended the statewide mask mandate in a 52-42 ruling. As the first COVID-19 decision made by the legislature in ten months, Wisconsin’s public health emergency order ended on the basis of the governor’s unauthorized use of his authoritative power. Republican lawmakers argued that without approval, emergency orders could not be repeatedly renewed after its 60 day period ends. In his video address, Gov. Evers referenced the pushback he has received throughout the coronavirus pandemic, beginning with the March 2020 Safer at Home order that was repealed in May by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“Every step of the way, our statewide strategies to contain this virus and prevent the spread have been met with lawsuits, political rhetoric, and obstruction,” Evers said. “Unfortunately, that happened again today when Republicans in the Legislature came in to vote down our state’s public health emergency and end requiring face coverings in public places.”
Under state law, the Wisconsin legislature can end public health emergency orders without a signature of approval from the governor. After the Wisconsin Senate passed the amendment to end the mask mandate on Tuesday, Jan. 26, the decision became increasingly complicated. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed the following day that if Wisconsin did not have a public health emergency declared, the state would lose nearly $50 million in federal aid packages monthly. Hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals and families would receive massive decreases of food assistance without the relief funding.
Monetary complications aside, 53 groups including medical organizations and tribal communities have publicly opposed repealing the mask mandate. Throughout the pandemic, Gov. Evers has relied on the opinion of public health professionals and coordinated the state’s health orders with the former Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Secretary-designee, Andrea Palm, who is now a health official for the Biden administration.
“We know that wearing face coverings can save lives and prevent death; we know it’s supported by science and the CDC; and we know it’s supported by more than 40 statewide organizations and the 72% of Wisconsinites who agree face coverings should be worn in public places,” Evers said.
Individual counties can declare their own mask mandates if the Wisconsin legislature ends the health emergency orders again. Officials in Dane and Milwaukee counties have already assured residents that public spaces will require face coverings even if the statewide order is repealed.