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Gov. Tony Evers changes course, issues statewide mask mandate
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Gov. Tony Evers changes course, issues statewide mask mandate

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CORONAVIRUS CELL

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S.

In an abrupt about-face, Gov. Tony Evers today issued a statewide order requiring the majority of Wisconsinites to wear a face mask when inside most buildings.

The public health emergency order, which goes into effect on Saturday, follows weeks of public statements by Evers that such a mandate was unlikely in Wisconsin. It also potentially sets up another legal battle between the Democratic governor and state GOP leaders, who successfully sued to strike down Evers' stay-at-home order in May. Republican leaders already have signaled opposition to the notion of a statewide mask order.

Evers' Thursday public health emergency order is the administration's second this year aimed at combating the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 50,000 Wisconsinites and killed more than 900 people. The state’s original order expired in May.

“While our local health departments have been doing a heck of a job responding to this pandemic in our communities, the fact of the matter is, this virus doesn't care about any town, city, or county boundary, and we need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track,” Evers said in a statement. “While I know emotions are high when it comes to wearing face coverings in public, 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.”

Under the new order, which expires September 28, everyone age 5 and older must wear a face covering when indoors or in any enclosed space open to the public including bars, outdoor restaurants, public transit and outdoor park structures. The order does not apply to people in their private residences. Face coverings are strongly recommended in all other settings, including outdoors when maintaining physical distance is not possible. A violation of the order could result in a $200 fine,

The order provides some exceptions to the face mask mandate, allowing them to be removed when eating or drinking or when communicating with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing, according to the order.

The state order also supersedes any less-restrictive local mask order, but does allow local entities to enforce more restrictive mask rules.

GOP leaders have expressed support for local mask rules like those adopted in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Racine. The Republican-controlled Legislature also has the authority to pass a state mask order, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have said they are not interested in a statewide mandate.

“I think wearing a mask should be voluntary and many people are already doing it,” Fitzgerald told the Associated Press.

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