Despite our wishes, the coronavirus is still raging across the country. Michigan is experiencing yet another surge of cases — this time among young and otherwise healthy patients. This makes the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to end Wisconsin’s state-wide mask mandate at best, ill-timed, and at worst, deadly.
March 31 saw the court release their 4-3 decision on the case, with the four conservative judges in the majority and the three liberal judges offering the dissent. Writing for the majority, Justice Brian Hagedorn argued Gov. Evers does not have the ability to create more than one emergency declaration on an issue.
For the dissenting view, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley agreed with the state’s argument that each order was addressing a new and evolving pandemic and are thus, legal.
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The release of this decision immediately ends the state-wide mask mandate — though local and municipal orders are not affected. With no state guidelines, questions over mask usage in schools has become a hot topic.
In local school districts, many parents have been quick to write to their superintendent, demanding their child no longer wear a mask. Small, rural districts have already been challenged by parents who opposed the mask mandates from the start, with 10% of the Cornell School District opting to homeschool or send children elsewhere due to the district’s mask mandate.
On campus, the Safer Badgers initiative remains in place, with university buildings still off-limits to the public and students who have not been tested in the past week. In a testament to the effectiveness of the Safer Badgers program, the university set a record low in COVID-19 cases mid-March.
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Though cases on campus, where the student body is tested and monitored regularly, are decreasing, the same cannot be said for the rest of the state. When the mask mandate was struck down, the seven-day average for cases was already rising once again. This has continued into April, where the state sits with a 3.8% positivity rate.
It has become clear that GOP donors and legislators, as well as the conservative Supreme Court judges, are going to do whatever they can to end statewide control of the pandemic. Especially now that the conservative-controlled Senate is set to pass a bill to take control of the state’s $5 billion federal COVID-19 relief grant from the governor. But, this conservative resolution does little to supplement actual relief efforts and actually contains large sums of money that may not be legally allowed to go where targeted.
This inefficient and ineffective proposal from the GOP is just the latest failure from the State Legislature. With the pandemic ongoing, it is completely irresponsible to begin loosening control over masks. Now that we temporarily have one less vaccine in circulation, we must be vigilant in maintaining downward trends in cases and preventing people from relaxing their precautions.
If state legislators and judges are going to give up control of the pandemic, it is on our municipal leadership to maintain safe protections to counter the virus.
This is why Dane County electing to remove its outdoor face-covering requirement is so worrisome. Though safer than not wearing a mask indoors, public health experts warn that being outdoors does not necessarily make it safe to go maskless.
Simply put, being near people without masks — indoors or out — is still dangerous. With only 27% of the state fully vaccinated, we still have a long road ahead of us until it is truly safe to be without a mask around strangers and those outside families or households.
With the state and county opting for a laissez-faire approach to ending this pandemic, it is on us as community members to stay vigilant in protecting ourselves and others. The light at the end of the tunnel is still there — we just need to prevent it from moving further and further away.
Ryan Badger ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.