Gov. Tony Evers' pictured while giving an update to reporters.
Gov. Tony Evers' pictured while giving an update to reporters.

State Supreme Court is already considering a challenge to the previous order. Governor notes the Legislature’s lame duck session of 2018 shows there’s no excuse to stay inactive.

Gov. Tony Evers will extend the statewide mask mandate through mid-January, he announced Wednesday, three days before the current order was set to expire.

Evers made the announcement as the Department of Health Services reported 52 new deaths from the coronavirus and a record-high of 7,989 new COVID-19 cases, and as the Wisconsin Supreme Court considers a challenge to his last two emergency orders that established and extended the mask mandate. Wisconsin is currently one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 hotspots and the unprecedented spread has shown no sign of slowing down.

“It’s clear based on where we’re headed we cannot afford to stop or have a gap in some of the only mitigation efforts still in place,” Evers said.

Evers said he will formally issue the extension Thursday or Friday.

Ryan Nilsestuen, Evers’ chief legal counsel, said the administration does not anticipate a legal challenge to this order because the state Supreme Court is already considering the case against the first two mask orders. Nilsestuen said he thinks the eventual ruling will “provide clarity.”

News of the extended order comes one day after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) held a press conference to announce he had some vague ideas about fighting COVID-19 but no new legislation to present. The Legislature has not met or passed a bill in seven months.

That same day, Evers released his own bill package that would pump hundreds of millions of dollars into coronavirus mitigation efforts such as running a public service announcement and boosting funds available for contact tracing, testing, and vaccine distribution. 

Evers was critical of the possibility the Legislature may not pass a bill until December or January.

“I think it’s a bad timeline. They haven’t been in for a long time,” the governor said. “Two years ago they made it in December to do a lame-duck session. I don’t see a reason we can’t do it now to save lives in Wisconsin.”

All the while, the pandemic rages, and Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said the state should brace for darker days. 

One-third of the state’s hospitals are reporting a critical staffing shortage, while 41% more expect to face such a shortage in the next week, Palm said. Intensive care beds are filling up in hospitals throughout Wisconsin.

“As scary as this picture is, it is going to keep getting worse until it gets better,” Palm said.