Governor Seeks Way to Mandate Mask-Wearing Statewide Amid Court Decision Limiting His Authority

Gov. Evers calls mandate “something we’re considering” while acknowledging he would enact it if not concerned about legal challenge.

By Andy Soth

July 23, 2020

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Tony Evers

Gov. Tony Evers delivers a COVID-19 media briefing July 23, 2020.

While Wisconsin’s neighboring states have all enacted executive orders requiring the use of face coverings in indoor spaces open to the public, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has not taken that step. In May, the state Supreme Court struck down the governor’s “Safer at Home” order that closed many businesses. The governor has indicated that he thinks the court would likely rule against a mandate.

When asked in a news conference Thursday if he would have any hesitation about a mask mandate if he were confident that it wouldn’t face legal challenges, Evers’ response was immediate and direct: “No.”

Still Evers indicated that the issue was being considered in light of a continued increase in numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state.

“It’s all about the fact that our numbers are headed in the incorrect direction. Just about any of the metrics that you see on the DHS website are headed in the wrong direction. So we’re taking it very seriously,” Evers said.

He added, “So we’re going to continue to monitor it. And that [a mask mandate] is something we’re considering.”

Numbers reported at the press conference by Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm indicated 45,899 reported cases since the beginning of the pandemic—an increase of 1,052 from Wednesday in a week that saw daily increases in the high hundreds or over one thousand.

“These numbers are, at least in part, a reflection of two patterns,” Palm said. “A significant number of cases that reported attending gatherings like parties and bars and barbecues and an increase in cases among young people. In fact, in all confirmed cases within the past month here in Wisconsin, fully one third of them have been people in their twenties.”

Palm reiterated DHS’s message to the public: “The safest thing to do, as the governor said, is to stay at home, limit your interactions and wear a mask.”

While Wisconsin’s state government is only strongly suggesting that Wisconsin citizens employ face-coverings, more and more local governments are mandating the practice. Green Bay, Racine and Superior have each passed ordinances recently, joining Dane County and Milwaukee in requiring the public’s use of face-coverings.

Mask wearing continues to be a politically-charged issue inspiring a small protest outside the Capitol even as the governor was discussing the issue during the news conference.

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