Gov. Tony Evers issues new COVID-19 emergency order, extends statewide mask mandate

Mitchell Schmidt | Wisconsin State Journal

With positive COVID-19 cases surging in college towns across the state, Gov. Tony Evers has extended the statewide mask mandate through late November.

Evers announced on Tuesday the new mask mandate — along with the governor's third public health emergency — in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19. Positive cases, primarily among 18- to 24-year-olds, have been rising since students returned to campus, despite a mask mandate being in effect since July.

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents in July passed a mandate requiring students and faculty to wear face coverings in classrooms and other indoor public spaces.

“We continue to learn more about this virus, but what we do know is that we are facing a new and dangerous phase of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Wisconsin,” Evers said in a statement. “We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus. 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.”

The order goes into effect immediately and remains in place for 60 days, or until a subsequent superseding order is passed.

Evers' second public health emergency, passed in July, already faces a legal challenge from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), which alleges the governor cannot unilaterally extend a public health emergency or declare multiple emergencies in response to the same crisis. The group did not file for an immediate injunction to stop enforcement of the governor’s mask mandate.

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

Last week, Evers hinted at the possibility of extending the statewide mask mandate, which he called an "important piece of the puzzle" to mitigate the spread of the disease.

The Evers administration’s stay-at-home order, issued by Palm in March, was struck down on procedural grounds, with the state Supreme Court saying the Legislature needed to have a say in any long-term COVID-19 regulations.

After saying multiple times that the court's order prevented him from implementing a mask order, Evers in July declared a new public health emergency and a separate order requiring masks. Both orders are set to expire Sept. 28.