Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said he will extend the state’s mask mandate amid a surge in its coronavirus outbreak. Republicans filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court aiming to scrap the current order.
With the state’s last emergency declaration set to expire later this week, Evers said he would soon renew the mandate until early 2021, including a rule requiring face coverings while indoors in public.
“It’s clear based on where we’re headed we can not afford to stop or have a gap in some of the only mitigation efforts we have in place,” Evers said at a Wednesday press briefing. “So today I’m announcing that I’ll be declaring a new state of emergency this week and extending our public health emergency until January of next year.”
The Democratic governor pointed to a steep spike in coronavirus infections and deaths, saying that, as of Tuesday, the state had tripled its seven-day average for new cases, which now stands at some 6,400 per day. Wednesday, moreover, set a new daily case record with just shy of 8,000 infections. Deaths are also on the rise, with weekly fatality averages jumping nearly fivefold since October, according to data compiled by the Associated Press.
Insisting there would be no “do-overs” in battling the pandemic, Evers also called on Wisconsin Republicans to “withdraw support” for legal challenges to his health orders, citing a case now moving through the state Supreme Court.
The court heard arguments in the suit on Monday, with attorney Matthew Fernholz stating that the governor’s orders “represent an unlawful end run” around a 60-day limit on emergency powers. He urged the court to invalidate the mandates and require Evers’ to negotiate any extensions with lawmakers.
The March, July and September declarations all relate to Covid-19. And so to extend it beyond 60 days, he needs permission from the legislature.
Attorneys representing the state have rebutted that the 60-day rule “does not in any way limit the governor’s ability to recognize when emergency circumstances are present,” effectively arguing that the new orders pertain to separate crises rather than one ongoing emergency.
In May, the conservative majority court ruled 4-3 to overturn a stay-at-home order first issued by Evers in March, arguing that the governor overstepped his authority when he extended the mandate beyond the 60-day cut-off.
“An agency cannot confer on itself the power to dictate the lives of law-abiding individuals as comprehensively as the order does without reaching beyond the executive branch’s authority,” the justices wrote in their decision.
Evers denounced the ruling, saying it “hamstrung our ability to respond to this virus by using the tools supported by science and public health experts.”
Earlier this month, a Wisconsin appeals court also tossed out a separate order imposing limits on the size of some public gatherings, deeming it “invalid and unenforceable.” Evers vowed to challenge the decision.
While the governor has continued to issue additional executive orders despite the ongoing legal battles, they have largely avoided penalties for non-compliance. Guidelines announced last week, for example, strongly urge residents to stay at home and maintain social distancing, but are not legally binding.
To date, Wisconsin has recorded over 350,000 coronavirus infections and nearly 3,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, ranking high among the states bearing the brunt of the pandemic. The surge reflects trends nationwide, where total fatalities broke the 250,000 mark on Wednesday and cases are approaching 11.5 million.
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