Gov. Evers declares new public health emergency, issues new face coverings order

NOW: Gov. Evers declares new public health emergency, issues new face coverings order

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Citing a surge of COVID-19 cases across the state primarily from college campuses, Governor Tony Evers declared a new public health emergency and an extension of the statewide mask mandate.

The new order extends the mask mandate until Nov. 21.

“We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus,” Gov. Evers said in a release. “We need folks to start taking this seriously, and young people especially—please stay home as much as you are able, skip heading to the bars, and wear a mask whenever you go out. We need your help to stop the spread of this virus, and we all have to do this together.”

In recent weeks, Wisconsin has broken single-day records in reporting COVID-19 cases and communities across the state are among the top hot spots in the country by some metrics. But while college campuses have some of the highest rates, state health leaders are concerned about the effects that has on other communities.

“The current surge among young people is concerning, but it is important to remember that this increase in cases is not confined to college campuses,” said Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “Students come to these campuses from across the state, and we worry about the effect their return from an area with a high infection rate could have on their home communities. That is why it is imperative we take action to curb transmission now – to protect residents of Wisconsin in every corner of the state.”

This is the governor’s third emergency order since the pandemic began. The first came in the spring early on in the pandemic. The second one came in late July and included the initial statewide mask mandate. It was set to expire on Sept. 28.

The first mask mandate was also being challenged in court by the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. WILL is likely to challenge this latest order and its reaction to the announcement was swift.

“Governor Evers and his team believe the presence of COVID-19 supersedes the rule of law and our state constitution,” WILL President Rick Esenberg said in a statement. “They are wrong. Letting this gross abuse of power stand is not an option."

The legal basis for the challenge, according to WILL, is that the governor does not have the constitutional authority to declare consecutive public health emergencies on the same issue, in this case they argue, the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is echoed by Republicans in the Legislature.

“This is the second time that I feel he acted illegally and he does not have the authority to go issue another executive order on the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sen. Chris Kapenga (R – Delafield) told CBS 58.

Kapenga joined other GOP colleagues in calling on leadership to convene the Legislature to vote to block the governor’s latest order.

“We have the authority to dissolve the order we could do that but if we go through the court system it will essentially ensure that it doesn’t continue happening,” Kapenga said.

While both Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) called the governor’s latest order illegal, they came short of saying that they would call the Legislature into action to block it, instead signaling they would let the issue be handled in court.

Democrats, meanwhile, praised the governor’s latest move.

“We’ve had huge increases,” Sen. Chris Larson (D – Milwaukee) said in an interview. “Last week we had seven of the top 20 highest growth places in the country, and so I think it’s good that he extended it and I would hope that it’s not being viewed through a partisan lens so that everyone can be protected.”

Larson said he is hopeful Republicans will not move to bring the Legislature to vote to block the order.

“I would hope they would want their legacy to be one of responsibility of doing what the science says, and not getting in the way of those who are trying to help,” Larson said.

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