By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Last March, when the pandemic began, there was debate over the merit of masks. Ultimately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and others determined that it was better to wear as mask.
In response, states across the United States issued mask mandates to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Wisconsin was no exception.
Gov. Tony Evers issued a statewide mask mandate. The mandate was set to expire this upcoming Monday, with the possibility of an extension, but now it looks like an extension won’t be happening.
Earlier this week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the statewide mask mandate under the argument that Evers issued too many executive orders and abused his authority. Now, any new public health emergency orders regarding face masks must be approved by the State Legislature, which is currently controlled by Republicans, according to the Journal Sentinel.
“The question in this case is not whether the Governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully,” wrote Justice Brian Hagedorn in a statement for the majority as reported by the Journal Sentinel. “We conclude he did not.”
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote a statement for the minority, as reported by AP News.
“This is no run-of-the-mill case,” she wrote. “We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that so far has claimed the lives of over a half million people in this country. And with the stakes so high, the majority not only arrives at erroneous conclusions, but it also obscures the consequence of its decision. Unfortunately, the ultimate consequence of the majority’s decision is that it placed yet another roadblock to an effective governmental response to COVID-19”
While some could argue that the signs of the pandemic were on the horizon, no one could fully prepare for the effect it would have or how long it would last. What was meant to be a two-week quarantine has continued for over a year. As the circumstances change, leaders must make the decision that will best benefit the people.
In a tweet, Rep. LaKeshia Myers wrote, “Elected officials have a responsibility to look out for public safety and address challenges that threaten that safety, which @GovEvers did by declaring public health emergencies and implementing a statewide mask order.”
There’s no doubt that Wisconsin has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Since the beginning, Wisconsin had a high number of cases and COVID-19 related deaths. When faced with the numbers and options to slow the spread, Evers acted in interest of the people.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic, I’ve worked to keep Wisconsinites healthy and safe, and I’ve trusted the science and public health experts to guide our decision making,” Evers said in a tweet. “Our fight against COVID-19 isn’t over – while we work to get folks vaccinated as quickly as we can, we know wearing a mask saves lives, and we still need Wisconsinites to mask up so we can beat this virus and bounce back from the pandemic.”
Ben Wikler, the chair for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, issued a statement in support of Evers.
“Thanks to Gov. Evers’ steady leadership throughout the pandemic, Wisconsin is a national leader in vaccinations and currently has one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the Midwest…Today’s far-right ruling has nothing to do with the law. It is pure partisan politics; it is reckless and is it dangerous.”
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore likewise called that court’s decision reckless and irresponsible. Moore stressed that even without the mask mandate, COVID-19 continues to exist, and Wisconsinites should continue to wear a mask.
While Republican legislators have issued statements in support of the court’s ruling, many Democrats have made it clear they plan to keep wearing masks.
“COVID-19 is still a threat to our state’s health and safety. Wearing a mask is a simple, effective tool that will help protect all Wisconsinites. I will continue wearing a mask,” Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire) wrote.
“We must follow science, public health and use common sense if we want to return to some sense of normalcy in our daily lives,” Rep. Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield) said in a statement. “Please continue to mask up, Wisconsin.”
According to the Journal Sentinel, the court’s decision could impact the $50 million in federal food assistance Wisconsin is set to receive.
Although Wisconsin’s statewide mask mandate is currently not in effect, local governments are still able to enforce a mask mandate as is the case in the City of Milwaukee and Dane County. And while he may to be able to issue an executive order about masks, Evers can still tweet.
“Wear mask. Help save lives,” he wrote on Wednesday, March 31.