Executive Order #104 declared a state of emergency and public health emergency and extended the statewide mask mandate to March 20.
The Assembly voted 52–42 to repeal the mandate, with seven Republicans in opposition, according to the Star Tribune. In the resolution, all COVID-19-related public health emergencies put in place by Evers were deemed “unlawful.”
Evers released Executive Order #105 after the resolution was passed, redeclaring a state of emergency and public health emergency.
According to Taylor-Bascom Chair and Director of Academic Programs Dietram Scheufele, the GOP argued that mask mandates were unconstitutional and the action should come from the legislature, which has not offered any sort of proposal to replace the mask mandate.
“Saying they just want to get rid of it because it’s unconstitutional without having a solution is a hard sell 10 months into a pandemic where millions of people have died,” Scheufele said. “Replacing a solution with a non-solution seems a losing proposition to me. It is literally their job to come up with a more long-term solution.”
Though GOP lawmakers have had the ability to fight the mask mandate since it was issued in July, they declined to do so in the months before and after the November presidential election, according to the Cap Times.
The timing of the push to overturn Evers’ order has much to do with elections, Scheufele said.
“We can see where the talking points are about Evers being anti-business, anti-civil liberties, forcing Wisconsinites to wear masks, etcetera,” Scheufele said. “It’s really just an attempt to draw lines between Republican talking points and Democratic talking points for the upcoming elections.”
Scheufele said what he sees as the GOP’s disregard for public health may stem from former-President Donald Trump’s attitude towards the pandemic.
According to The New York Times, Trump expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of face masks throughout the pandemic and downplayed the severity of the virus.
“No, I’m not concerned at all. No, I’m not. No, we’ve done a great job.” Trump said March 7.
Eliminating the mask mandate opposes science, according to Scheufele.
“The irony of this is that as more studies are coming out that we should consider wearing two masks at the same time, Wisconsin is going in the opposite direction by saying they don’t even want us to wear one mask,” Scheufele said. “So we are not only at odds with science, we are going in the literal opposite direction.”
As of Feb. 8, there have been nearly 27 million COVID-19 cases and 462,037 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, released a statement claiming Evers abused the powers granted to him in Chapter 323 of the Wisconsin Statutes to issue repeated emergency declarations since March 2020, according to the WisPolitics website.
Nass has long called for the reversal of state health orders, calling Evers’ actions “lawless,” according to the Cap Times.
Healthcare workers in Madison and across Wisconsin will be affected heavily by this change. Dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Robert Golden said it is imperative to continue to wear masks.
“For both our own protection, as well as the safety of those around us, we must continue to follow public health practices, including wearing masks,” Golden said. “At this stage of the pandemic, masking saves lives.”
According to the Cap Times, local orders will stay in place if the statewide mask mandate is voted down. This means Public Health Madison & Dane County’s current emergency order requiring residents to wear masks will stay.
Golden said wearing masks is the ethical choice to protect ourselves and the people around us, mask mandate or no mask mandate.
“Regardless of whether state or federal laws require it, respect for the health of our families, neighbors and ourselves should compel us to always wear masks in public settings until the pandemic is under control,” Golden said.
According to the UW COVID-19 response website, UW is expanding its COVID-19 response with more frequent testing and the Safer Badgers app, requiring a negative test result to access campus facilities and services.
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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have also created a 200-page National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness to beat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scheufele said efforts to terminate the mask mandate disregard public health concerns.
“We are talking about a small piece of cloth in front of your mouth,” Scheufele said. “The fact we are fighting that particular battle shows how much this is about politics and how little this is about public health.”