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Use of face coverings mandated statewide


In light of a rising number of cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers declared a Public Health Emergency and issued an Emergency Order, requiring individuals to wear face coverings when indoors and not in a private residence, with some exceptions as clarified and defined in the order.

The order is effective from Aug. 1, and will expire Monday, Sept. 28, or by a subsequent superseding order.

“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,” said Evers. “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.

“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.”

Wisconsin is seeing new and significant community spread, and increase in cases of COVID-19. The state has experienced a drastic rise in COVID-19 cases throughout Wisconsin, with 61 of 72 counties (84 percent) representing 96 percent of the state’s population, experiencing high COVID-19 activity.

All regions of Wisconsin have high COVID-19 activity levels. This is a dramatic increase from where Wisconsin was in June, when only 19 of 72 counties (26 percent) were experiencing high COVID-19 activity.

The average number of new confirmed cases of COVID- 19 has drastically increased throughout July, with an average of 556 new cases each day, between July 1-7; an average of 764 new cases each day, between July 8-14 (a 37 percent increase from the previous week); an average of 890 new cases each day, between July 15-21 (a 16 percent increase from the previous week); and an average of 938 new cases each day, between July 22-26 (a 5 percent increase from the previous week).

Under this order, Wisconsin residents ages five and older, are required to wear a face covering when they are indoors or in an enclosed space, with anyone outside their household or living unit. Face coverings are strongly recommended if outdoors and maintaining physical distancing is not possible.

“Enclosed space” means a confined space open to the public where individuals congregate, including but not limited to, outdoor bars, outdoor restaurants, taxis, public transit, ride-share vehicles and outdoor park structures.

“Face covering’’ means a piece of cloth, or other material that is worn to cover the nose and mouth completely. A “face covering’’ includes, but is not limited to, a bandana, a cloth face mask, a disposable or paper mask, a neck gaiter or a religious face covering. A “face covering’’ does not include face shields, mesh masks, masks with holes or openings, or masks with vents.

“Physical distancing’’ means maintaining at least six feet of distance from other individuals who are not members of household or living unit.

The order also enumerates exceptions to the requirement, listing activities such as when an individual is eating, drinking or swimming. Individuals with health conditions or disabilities that would preclude the wearing of a face covering safely, are also exempt from the requirement.

“The data is what drives our decisions, and that data tells us we have significant community spread in Wisconsin and need to take statewide action,” said DHS secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “Community spread means that any interaction out in the community can mean exposure, and because people can spread COVID-19 without symptoms or even knowing they are sick, we need to take universal precautions in order for wearing face coverings to be effective.”

Exceptions for wearing a face covering include while a single individual is giving a religious, political, media, educational, artistic, cultural, musical or theatrical presentation for an audience. During that time, the single speaker may remove the face covering when actively speaking. While the face covering is removed, the speaker must remain at least six feet away from all other individuals at all times.

Other exceptions include the following:

• When 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.

In accordance with CDC guidance, the following individuals are exempt from the face covering requirement:

• The CDC does not recommend masks for children under the age of 2.

• Individuals who have trouble breathing.

• Individuals 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.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the medical and scientific community continues to learn more about the virus, including how to best prevent its transmission. Recent scientific studies show that wearing face coverings is very effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“Staying home, limiting interactions, practicing physical distancing and washing your hands thoroughly, are still the most effective ways to stop the spread,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer and the state epidemiologist for communicable diseases. “But we learn something new about this virus every day. 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.”

This order is enforceable by civil forfeiture of not more than $200, according to Wis. Stat. § 323.28.