On Thursday, Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency and issued an emergency order mandating people wear a face covering when not in a private residence, according to a statement from his office.
“We’ve said all along that we’re going to let science and public health experts be our guide in responding to this pandemic, and we know that masks and face coverings will save lives,” Gov. Evers said in the news release.
“While I know emotions are high when it comes to wearing face coverings in public,” he added, “my job as governor is to put people first and to do what’s best for the people of our state, so that’s what I am going to do.”
The order goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, the news release said. It’s set to expire on September 28 or by a subsequent superseding order.
The move comes as the average number of new cases drastically increased over the past four weeks and the state is seeing significant community spread. According to Evers’ office, there was a 75% increase in cases in July, prompting the order declaring a public health emergency.
As of Friday morning, Wisconsin had 52,108 cases of Covid-19 and 919 people had died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
More and more states are mandating masks and face coverings to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, including just this month Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Colorado, among others. Despite controversy and protests over mask mandates nationwide, they’ve been shown to reduce the chance of virus transmission and stop person-to-person spread.
According to the governor’s order, face coverings are required for anyone 5 or older who is in an enclosed space, except for a private residence. Coverings are also required if another person who is not a member of the household is in the enclosed space.
Otherwise, masks “are strongly recommended in all other settings, including outdoors when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing.”
There are exceptions, including while swimming or visiting the dentist. The order is enforceable by a fine of up to $200, though it’s unclear how enforcement will work.
Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer and State epidemiologist for communicable disease, said in a statement that staying home, socially distancing and washing hands are effective ways to stop the spread of the virus. But masks are also important, he said.
“A growing number of scientific studies tell us that face coverings, when used correctly and consistently by a large percentage of the community, are extremely effective for preventing the spread of Covid-19 through respiratory droplets,” Westergaard said.