Medical Society Supports Mask Mandate as Senate Debates Ending It

By Will Kenneally

January 25, 2021

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Image of surgical masks

The Wisconsin Medical Society is pushing for a continuation of the governor’s mask mandate ahead of a state Senate vote Tuesday to overturn the order.

If both the Senate and Assembly pass a joint resolution, the Legislature could end the governor’s emergency declaration and corresponding mask mandate.

The medical society’s board voted to support the governor’s measure during a virtual meeting over the weekend.

“Other than vaccines, mask-wearing is one of the few tools we have in our arsenal to help prevent spreading COVID-19 even further than it already has,” said society CEO Bud Chumbley in a statement.

“Studies show that wearing masks helps slow the spread of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and that government requirements to wear masks correlates to reduced COVID-19 spread than in locations without such orders.”

Wisconsin’s mask mandate has been in place since August, when Gov. Tony Evers issued his second emergency declaration related to the pandemic after an initial declaration in March. The emergency declaration carries a 60-day expiration date, and the governor has issued three new declarations in the months since to re-up the state’s mask mandate.

The governor’s ability to declare successive emergency declarations was challenged in the state Supreme Court in November and is still being decided by the high court. Tuesday will be the first attempt by the Legislature to end the statewide mask mandate.

The governor’s office criticized the move last week, saying through a spokeswoman that legislative Republicans “haven’t taken COVID-19 seriously.”

“We ask of all our government leaders to support physicians and other frontline healthcare workers by promoting mask-wearing as an effective tool against COVID-19,” Chumbley said.

This comes as COVID-19 aid legislation is currently stalled in the Legislature as Senate and Assembly Republicans reconcile differences in competing bills.

Also on the docket are proposed upgrades to the state’s unemployment insurance infrastructure to try and eliminate backlogs like those seen during much of 2020. The governor called the Legislature into special session to work out a proposal, but the session was convened and immediately sent into recess last week.

On Monday, the co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee called on Evers to allocate the money through the committee, rather than going through the legislative process.

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