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Gov. Tony Evers has declared a new public health emergency in the state due to COVID-19.

Evers announced the measure on Tuesday due to “a recent surge among young people,” his office said in a released statement.

The health emergency carries Executive Order #90 and Emergency Order #1.

The emergency order relates to face-covering requirements in the state. It states: “Every individual, age five and older, in Wisconsin shall wear a face covering if both of the following apply:

“A. The individual is indoors or in an enclosed space, other than at a private residence, and; B. Another person or persons who are not members of an individual’s household or living unit are present in the same room or enclosed space. Face coverings are strongly recommended in all other settings, including outdoors when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing.

Exemptions to the order

Exemptions to the mask requirements of the new order include while/when:

  • Eating or drinking. 
  • Communicating with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing and communication cannot be achieved through other means. 
  • Obtaining a service that requires the temporary removal of the face covering, such as dental services. 
  • Sleeping. 
  • Swimming or on duty as a lifeguard. 
  • While a single individual is giving a religious, political, media, educational, artistic, cultural, musical or theatrical presentation for an audience, the single speaker may remove the face covering when actively speaking. While the face covering is removed, the speaker must remain at least 6 feet away from all other individuals at all times. 
  • Engaging in work where wearing a face covering would create a risk to the individual, as determined by government safety guidelines. 
  • When necessary to confirm the individual’s identity, including when entering a bank, credit union, or other financial institution. 
  • When federal or state law or regulations prohibit wearing a face covering.
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In accordance to CDC guidance, exemptions also exist for: 

  • Children between the ages of 2 and 5 are encouraged to wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible. The CDC does not recommend masks for children under the age of 2. 
  • Individuals who have trouble breathing. 
  • People who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance. 
  • Individuals with medical conditions, intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, or other sensory sensitivities that prevent the individual from wearing a face covering. 
  • Incarcerated individuals. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections shall continue to comply with COVID-19 protocols to ensure the health and safety of its staff and individuals in its care. Local governments are strongly encouraged to continue or create COVID-19 protocols to ensure the health and safety of their staff and individuals in their care.

Effective immediately

Both orders are effective immediately and will expire after sixty days or with a subsequent superseding order. The governor previously declared a public health emergency under Executive Order #82, which remains in effect.

“We continue to learn more about this virus, but what we do know is that we are facing a new and dangerous phase of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Wisconsin,” Evers said in a released statement. “We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus. We need folks to start taking this seriously, and young people especially—please stay home as much as you are able, skip heading to the bars, and wear a mask whenever you go out. We need your help to stop the spread of this virus, and we all have to do this together.”

Republican senator responds to order

State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, released a critical statement Tuesday morning regarding the governor’s new order.

“For someone who claims to be following the science, Governor Evers is ignoring his own data and the results of his mandatory mask experiment,” Wanggaard said in a released statement.

Wanggaard said that “according to Evers’ third COVID Emergency Order, Wisconsin’s COVID infection rate has decreased or remained flat for nearly every age group since early July, more than a month before his original mask order.”

“In addition, Wisconsin’s recent spike in COVID infection is almost entirely driven by 18 – 24-year-olds on college campuses and has exclusively occurred while Evers’ mask mandate has been in effect,” Wanggaard said.

He further criticized Evers for “continuing his ‘one size fits all’ approach to the virus.”

“Doubling down on a strategy that has proven ineffective for the age group driving the COVID – infection spike,” Wanggaard said.

“I remain ready to vote to repeal this mask mandate.”

Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine

‘A surge in cases’

With the start of the school year, Wisconsin has had “a surge in cases, especially among young people,” the governor’s office’s release stated.

 “In fact, 18 to 24-year-olds have a case rate five times higher than any other age group,” the release said. “This significant increase has only occurred within the past month and appears to be driven by in-person social gatherings. Last week, eight Wisconsin cities were listed among the top twenty cities in the United States, where COVID-19 cases were rising fastest, and six of those eight cities have University of Wisconsin System campuses.”

Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said the current surge “is concerning.”

“But it is important to remember that this increase in cases is not confined to college campuses,” Palm said. “Students come to these campuses from across the state, and we worry about the effect their return from an area with a high infection rate could have on their home communities,” Palm said. “That is why it is imperative we take action to curb transmission now ⏤ to protect residents of Wisconsin in every corner of the state.”

Peak activity between late fall and early spring

Wisconsin is now experiencing unprecedented, near-exponential growth of the COVID-19 pandemic. The daily number of new cases rising from 678 on Aug. 31st to 1,791 on Sept. 21, a 2.6-fold increase in three weeks, driven in part by the unprecedented number of infections among 18-24-year-olds.

“We need to remember that most respiratory viruses see their peak activity in Wisconsin between late fall and early spring,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s Chief Medical Officer and the State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases. “We need to do everything we can now to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prepare for the winter. That is why we need to continue wearing masks and practicing physical distancing.”

Though it won’t directly impact the virus, the state is also encouraging flu shots this year. (Note: Updated as of 9:35 a.m. Sept. 24. This sentence previously and erroneously stated that the state was not encouraging flu shots this year.)

“The flu shot cannot protect you from COVID-19, but by helping protect you from the flu, it helps strengthen our COVID-10 response here in Wisconsin by preserving hospital and testing capacity.”

Evers’ July 30 order

On July 30, Evers issued Executive Order #82 to declare a public health emergency due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in counties throughout the state. At the same time, Evers crafted a statewide face-covering mandate. New cases of COVID-19 slowed down in August as a result of the order. However, as campuses reopened the last several weeks, there has been a recent surge in cases across our state.

Under the new order, residents ages five and older are required to wear a face covering when they are indoors. These requirements apply when they are with anyone outside their household or living unit.

For up-to-date information about Wisconsin’s COVID-19 response, visit the DHS COVID-19 webpage. We also encourage you to follow @DHSWI on Facebook and Twitter, or dhs.wi on Instagram for more information on COVID-19.

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Daniel Thompson is an independent journalist and the founder of The Uptown Observer based in the Kenosha, Wis., area. He started in journalism at the Western Nebraska Observer in 2012 and, most notably,...