Current rule ends Sept. 28, as cases continue to surge.

With the statewide mask mandate set to expire in less than two weeks, Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday he and his staff are “looking at all alternatives” in deciding whether to let the mandate expire or risk another legal challenge by Republicans if it is extended at month’s end.

“We believe masking is an important component of keeping the people of Wisconsin safe,” Evers told reporters during a media briefing with health officials. “Hopefully we will find a way of making that happen going forward but we have made no decisions in that respect. We are looking for the right avenue.”

The debate over whether to extend the mask mandate comes as the number of COVID-19 cases surges in Wisconsin. The increases are due, in large part, to the return of in-person classes at university campus, said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer with the state Department of Health Services. 

On Monday, The New York Times reported that seven of the top 20 metro areas with the fastest increase in new COVID-19 cases per capita are in college towns in Wisconsin. They include: La Crosse, which ranked second; Whitewater eighth, followed by Platteville in ninth, Madison in tenth, Green Bay in fifteenth, Eau Claire in sixteenth, and Oshkosh in nineteenth.  

On Tuesday, 1,348 new cases were reported, the fifth-highest daily total to date in the state. Overall, there have been 91,304 positive cases and 1,220 people have died of the virus in Wisconsin. 

Evers issued the statewide mask mandate July 30. It took effect Aug. 1. By law, the mandates expire in 60 days unless extended or ended early. The current mandate expires Sept. 28. 

“Certainly our ability to act and react was limited by the Republicans and their allies on the Supreme Court back in May,” Evers said. “As a result, we are severely limited on what we can do.”

When asked if he had directly appealed to members of the Legislature to work with him on the issue, Evers said he had not. 

“They obviously all know [the mandate is expiring], and they have made it very clear in the past that they have no interest in pursuing any kind of restrictions in the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. 

“We are looking at every possible avenue to see if there is a way to extend it. We believe it is an important piece of the puzzle to mitigate the transmission of this virus,” Evers said. “We are working on this every day to see if we can come up with a solution.”

Evers also commented on President Donald Trump’s upcoming campaign rally Thursday in Mosinee and the lack of leadership Trump is displaying by not wearing a mask.

“He will not be wearing a mask, and he should be wearing a mask,” Evers said. “When you have leaders not wearing masks that sends a message to everyone else.”

Editor’s note: The President’s visit was originally announced as happening Friday but was changed by the Trump campaign Monday evening.