Gov. Tony Evers wears a mask while discussing rising COVID-19 numbers in Wisconsin
In this screen capture from the Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services YouTube channel, Gov. Tony Evers is wear a mask while discussing rising COVID-19 numbers in Wisconsin on July 7, 2020.

Dane County adds requirement as Wisconsin tops 800 dead.

Dane County public health officials issued an order Tuesday mandating the wearing of face masks in indoor spaces, but Gov. Tony Evers said he is unlikely to issue a similar measure statewide because he believes it wouldn’t stand up to a legal challenge. 

During a state Department of Health Services news conference Tuesday to address COVID-19, Evers said he has been asked to enact a statewide order requiring the wearing of face masks in all public spaces to slow the expansion of the fast-spreading virus. 

While he backs such protections, the governor said the May 13 state Supreme Court decision to overturn the safer-at-home regulations he and DHS issued makes issuing further statewide orders problematic. 

The Supreme Court ruling “really hamstrung our ability to respond to this pandemic,” Evers said, noting he supports local health officials issuing orders necessary to help slow the spread of the virus. 

The Dane County order, scheduled to take effect at 8 a.m. on Monday, July 13, stipulates masks be worn in any indoor space, including public areas, where someone other than a person’s household is present. The action pertains to all Dane County residents age 5 and older. 

The order comes as the number of COVID-19 cases across Wisconsin has risen sharply in recent weeks. Since Memorial Day weekend, the state has added 16,972 cases of COVID-19, more than the total of the previous three months, DSH Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said. 

On Tuesday DHS figures show 32,556 positive COVID-19 cases statewide, up 495 cases from Monday. Deaths total 805, an increase of nine after three successive days with no new deaths. Seven of those deaths were in Milwaukee County. Rusk County recorded its first COVID-19 death, Polk County its second. 

In Dane County, 2,510 cases of COVID-19 have been detected, prompting public health officials to issue the mask-wearing order. That action follows the issuance last week in Madison of orders to limit gatherings at such locations as bars and restaurants to curb the illness.  

“Given the current number of COVID-19 infections in our county, we need to all be wearing face coverings every time we leave the house,” Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, said in the release.

Health Department directors across Wisconsin expressed similar concerns about the rapidly growing number of COVID-19 cases in their communities. As restrictions have been lifted and some residents aren’t wearing masks or abiding by social distancing guidelines, that number appears likely to continue to rise, they said. 

“We are seeing disease spread happening because people are choosing to not keep their (interaction) circle small,” said Lieske Giese, director of the city-county health department in Eau Claire, where positive COVID-19 cases have more than doubled in recent weeks, to 290, despite the continuance of a virus-related health order there. 

Under the safer-at-home order, the state was able to flatten the curve of COVID-19, Palm said, limiting spikes of the virus that could have overwhelmed hospitals across the state and their ability to treat patients. However, without those regulations, cases are on the rise, she said. 

About 20 percent of people who tested positive for the virus in June reported having attended a large gathering, a sign too many people aren’t maintaining social distancing measures, Palm said. 

“A large gathering inherently is a risky thing to do from a transmission standpoint,” she said, urging people to stay home as often as possible, maintain social distancing and wear masks when around others. 

Republican legislators who pushed for the Supreme Court ruling said a continuation of safer-at-home measures put businesses and the state’s economy in peril. Others have argued the state has reopened businesses and resumed other activities too quickly, boosting the number of COVID-19 cases in the process.

As some people have ignored precautions such as the wearing of face masks in public and social distancing intended to spread the spread of the virus, the number of those infected with COVID-19 continued to grow. More than 4,000 new cases tested positive last week, the largest one-week increase of the virus since counting cases began in Wisconsin in March. 

Much of the COVID-19 uptick in recent weeks has occurred among young people, Palm said, noting those ages 20-29 now make up 24 percent of all cases in the state, the largest percentage of any age group. Evers urged young people to abide by safety measures such as refraining from attending large gatherings and maintaining social distancing. 

“No party, no bar is worth it,” he said. “We especially need our young people to step up.”

To slow disease spread, the governor on Tuesday announced that Wisconsin Emergency Management will ship more than 2 million cloth face masks and 4,200 thermometers to K-12 public, charter and private schools in the state. In addition, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is helping deliver about 60,000 face masks to food processors and businesses.