By Shereen Siewert

Gov. Tony Evers said he has “no plans” to close schools amid the spike in COVID-19 cases, saying school districts should be left to decide which approach works best individually.

Evers made the statements Thursday afternoon in a briefing with reporters statewide. One day earlier, representatives of teachers unions gathered in Madison to call on Department of Health Service Secretary-designee Andrea Palm to order all K-12 schools, colleges and universities to move to virtual instruction.

At a news conference Wednesday, union officials demanded the switch to protect students, educators and families.

MTEA President Amy Mizialko said that Oct. 1 marks two weeks since the first COVID-19-related death of a Wisconsin public school teacher. Heidi Hussli taught in the Howard-Suamico School District in eastern Wisconsin, north of Green Bay.

“We’re seeing some cases in our schools, but that is not the majority of what we’re seeing that’s driving this,” Evers said. “And school districts are doing a good job. If it’s causing a significant interruption in their education, they’re going virtual.”

School leaders in Wausau have been under fire for their July decision to open the semester virtually. During a school board meeting Monday, Superintendent Keith Hilts said that local health officials support reopening schools to in-person instruction and plans are underway for a Nov. 2 start. Hilts said Marathon County health officials do not believe in-person learning will contribute to the spread of the virus as long as schools implement recommended protocols.

Evers also called on restaurant and business owners to help encourage mask use, which he said only helps to mitigate the spread of the virus if everyone wears one.

“Wearing a mask is not a political statement,” Evers said Thursday.