By Shereen Siewert
Wisconsin’s mask mandate was struck down Wednesday by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which ruled that Gov. Tony Evers exceeded his authority by issuing the order.
Local ordinances in many counties and communities remain in place. Wausau does not have an ordinance, but council members last week approved extending a mask resolution that does not carry any penalties. Wausau’s resolution ends May 31.
The 4-3 ruling from the conservative-controlled court is the latest legal blow to attempts by Evers to control the coronavirus. It comes after Republicans in the Legislature voted to repeal the mask mandate in February, only to see Evers quickly re-issue it.
The Court did not consider the mandate’s health implications, but instead focused on the legal and procedural issues surrounding the rule.
“The question in this case is not whether the governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully. We conclude he did not,” Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote for the majority.
The court last May struck down Evers’ “safer at home” order, saying that his health secretary did not have the authority for such an order. Evers’ attempts to limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other indoor places were also blocked by a state appeals court in October.
In the latest case, the court ruled that any public health emergency issued by Evers is valid for just 60 days and can’t be extended without legislative approval.
Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The ruling comes on the heels of a new plea from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that warn of dire consequences if states roll back precautions too quickly, with cases rising again in Wisconsin and other states.
During the White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing on Monday, the CDC chief, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, described a feeling of “impending doom.”
“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope,” Walensky said. “But right now, I’m scared.”
Health officials say cases are once again rising in the U.S., even as vaccination efforts ramp up. The most recent seven-day average is just below 60,000 cases per day – a 10 percent increase compared with the previous week, health officials said.
Hospitalizations are up, too. Health officials report bout 4,800 admissions per day over the last week, up from an average 4,600 per day in the previous seven-day period. Deaths, which tend to lag cases and hospitalizations, have also begun to rise, increasing nearly 3 percent, to a seven-day average of about 1,000 per day.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.