Gov. Tony Evers announced Friday he will extend the state’s mask mandate another 60 days, as the current mandate is set to expire on Tuesday.
“While there’s light and hope at the end of this tunnel, this virus hasn’t gone away,” Evers said during a Friday media briefing.
This will be the third time the governor has extended the statewide mask mandate he put in place in August.
In addition to the mask mandate, the governor’s emergency declaration will activate the Wisconsin National Guard to help respond to the pandemic. Evers announced on Friday as well that the guard will help distribute doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as part of a mobile vaccination program starting next week.
“These mobile vaccination teams are going to help us [get people vaccinated quickly] by continuing to expand vaccine distribution across our state, leveraging partnerships and our best resources to meet folks where they are in their own communities,” Evers said.
The governor said that the state would start with nine teams staffed by both guard troops and UW pharmacy and nursing students.
This comes as the state is working to expand its vaccine distribution broadly. Deputy health secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said during a Jan. 15 interview on Here & Now that the state has vaccinated roughly 185,000 of the 550,000 Wisconsinites in the first tier to receive the vaccine.
Van Dijk said the state is working deliberately to create a thoughtful rollout of the vaccine, and expects to inoculate older adults, police officers and firefighters, educators, and those living in congregate settings using the next round of vaccines.
Late Friday, Evers joined the governors of Michigan and Minnesota in criticizing the federal distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It has become abundantly clear that not only has the Trump administration botched the rollout of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, but also that the American people have been misled about these delays,” Evers and the other Democratic governors wrote to the U.S. health secretary.
Evers claimed the federal government had misled Wisconsin leaders in indicated it had reserve vaccine doses when it did not. The governor asked the federal government to allow states to buy vaccine directly from manufacturers if delays in getting states vaccine doses continue.
This comes as negotiations are ongoing in the state Capitol over a second coronavirus relief bill. The state Senate passed an amended version of the Assembly package, which the governor supported but at which Assembly Republicans balked.
“I’m calling on the Assembly to pass this bill as amended and send it to my desk without delay—let’s get this done and let’s start this legislative session on the right foot,” Evers said Friday. “Our state and communities can’t afford to lose any ground this late in the game.”
This also comes ahead of a weekend that could contain politically-motivated violence at the Wisconsin Capitol and other state capitols around the country.
“We are well prepared,” Evers said.
“We have National Guard in place close to the Capitol, as well as people from the state patrol, Capitol Police, Madison Police,” he added. “They’re all working together. I feel very confident this weekend.”