Updated Feb 4, 2021 - Health

Wisconsin governor issues new mask mandate after state GOP kills previous order

Photo of a masked Tony Evers speaking into a mic

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. Photo: Morry Gash-Pool via Getty Images

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) on Thursday issued a new statewide mask mandate almost immediately after the state Legislature voted to repeal his previous order.

Why it matters: Evers' attempts to combat COVID-19 have faced pushback from Republicans since early in the pandemic. Even with a new order, the Legislature could again vote to repeal the mask requirement.

What he's saying: "Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I promised I would: never play politics with your health, trust and follow science and public health experts, and never stop doing everything I can to keep you healthy and safe. I haven't broken those promises and I won't start today," Evers said in a video released Thursday afternoon.

  • He added that his efforts to protect Wisconsinites have been met with "lawsuits, political rhetoric, and obstruction," citing the Legislature's vote Thursday.
  • "We know that as we work to get shots in arms as quickly as we have vaccines available, no amount of vaccine in the world could bring back the lives we stand to lose if we have no statewide mitigation strategy in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin.
  • "Wearing a mask is the most basic thing we can do to keep each other safe. Wearing a mask saves lives."

Context: 5,992 people have died from the virus in Wisconsin to date, per state data. Now, coronavirus variants pose fresh risks. The previous mandate remained in effect since August.

  • Republicans, who control both the state Assembly and Senate, argue that Evers overstepped his authority by extending the mask mandate without legislative approval.
  • The governor says that the unusual circumstances posed by the pandemic give him the authority to issue such orders.

The big picture: Health experts have urged states to adopt mask mandates as the U.S. counts 26.6 million cases, per Johns Hopkins University.

  • "Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation," per the CDC.
  • Nearly 60 organizations, including groups representing American Indian tribes, hospitals, schools and businesses, have opposed to the repeal.
  • This is not the first time Republican lawmakers have challenged Evers' attempts to manage the pandemic. Last year, Republican legislators persuaded the state Supreme Court to throw out his stay-at-home order.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Gov. Evers' new mandate.

Go deeper