Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued a statewide mask mandate Thursday.
The order, which Evers issued while declaring a new public health emergency, requires that anyone age 5 or older must wear a face covering beginning Saturday in all enclosed spaces, except at home.
Evers noted that rates of COVID-19 have significantly increased in Wisconsin as more people return to work and have more interactions in public. Wearing face coverings is the simplest way to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus without requiring people stay in their homes, Evers said.
The new order also applies to outdoor bars and restaurants and exercising at gyms and cycling studios.
“Let’s work together to ensure our public health efforts are successful and the sooner we work together to box in this virus, the sooner we can get back to work, school, sports, restaurants and get our state and economy back on the right track,” Evers tweeted on Thursday.
The state’s response to COVID-19 has been “guided by science and data – that hasn’t changed,” Evers said.
As of Thursday, there have been 19,027 coronavirus cases diagnosed in Milwaukee County and 383 deaths. The city of Milwaukee has had 14,318 cases and 259 deaths.
Dr. Ben Weston, medical services director for Milwaukee County’s Office of Emergency Management, said during a virtual press conference on Thursday that the statewide mandate is a “landmark moment in the history of Wisconsin’s fight against COVID-19.”
“While we have seen other states and communities, some within our county, move forward with progressive mask orders, we’ve seen others across the country stand idly by while COVID tears through their communities, leading to mounting hospitalizations and deaths. I was so pleased to see our governor and the state of Wisconsin step up with measures in place to slow the spread of disease before we suffer the fate of overwhelmed hospitals.”
Local and state officials may enforce the order. Violating the order could result in a civil fine up to $200.
“We know that masks are not the be-all, end-all of COVID precautions,” Weston said. “We must continue physical distancing and basic hygiene. But they are a critical step in cutting the transmission of the disease. With the statewide order we no longer have confusion as to when a mask is required and where it’s required. We can have uniformity and hopefully be able to cut down our COVID numbers.”
Under the statewide order, face coverings aren’t needed if:
- You are at a private residence
- You are outside
- You are indoors and no one else is present.
You can also remove your face covering in the following situations, among others:
- When you are eating or drinking
- When you are communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing and you cannot communicate while wearing a mask
- While sleeping (e.g., firefighters sleeping at a fire station)
- While swimming or being on duty as a lifeguard
The statewide mandate could lead to a battle between Evers, a Democrat, and Republicans in the state Legislature who successfully worked to strike down Evers’ Safer at Home order.
“There will certainly be discussions and disagreements over this order, but the debate over the utility of masks in this pandemic should be over,” Weston said. “It’s clear that masks have a critical role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and therefore slowing the hospitalizations and eventual deaths.”
A more restrictive mask order will remain in effect in the city of Milwaukee, which also requires the wearing of masks outside when you aren’t able to maintain a social distance of six feet.
“The governor’s directive said his is sort of a minimum requirement and that local health departments can have more stringent laws,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. “We are much more densely populated than different parts of the state, so it makes sense to have a different set of rules.”