Starting Saturday, You’ll Have to Cover Your Face Indoors in Wisconsin

V1 Staff |

The state of Wisconsin isn’t asking for masking anymore: It’s requiring it.

Gov. Tony Evers issued an emergency order Thursday that will require people to wear face coverings while indoors to help fight the spread of the coronavirus. While masks won’t be required inside private residences or in other specific situations – such as while eating and drinking or while giving a religious, political, or educational presentation to an audience – they will be mandated in most enclosed environments.

The order will go into effect at 12:01am on Saturday, Aug. 1, and will expire on Sept. 28 or when a superseding order is issued.

Evers’ mandate follows local masking rules enacted around the state, including in Dane, Ashland, Bayfield, and Door counties and cities such as Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Racine.

“We’ve said all along that we’re going to let science and public health experts be our guide in responding to this pandemic, and we know that masks and face coverings will save lives.” –Gov. Tony Evers

“While our local health departments have been doing a heck of a job responding to this pandemic in our communities, the fact of the matter is, this virus doesn’t care about any town, city, or county boundary, and we need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track,” Evers said. “We’ve said all along that we’re going to let science and public health experts be our guide in responding to this pandemic, and we know that masks and face coverings will save lives. While I know emotions are high when it comes to wearing face coverings in public, my job as governor is to put people first and to do what’s best for the people of our state, so that’s what I am going to do.”

A press release from the governor’s office noted that the state is “seeing new and significant community spread” of the virus, which a “drastic rise” in cases statewide and 61 of 72 counties “experiencing high COVID-19 activity.” Between July 22-26, an average of 938 new cases were diagnosed daily in Wisconsin. As of Thursday, a total of 52,108 cases had been diagnosed in the state – nearly 10,000 of which are estimated to be still active – and 919 people have died of the virus, according to the state Department of Health Services.

“The data is what drives our decisions, and that data tells us we have significant community spread in Wisconsin and need to take statewide action,” said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “Community spread means that any interaction out in the community can mean exposure, and because people can spread COVID-19 without symptoms or even knowing they are sick, we need to take universal precautions in order for wearing face coverings to be effective.”

The emergency order cites modeling by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that estimates a face covering requirement could save more than 500 lives in Wisconsin over the next two months if 95% of Wisconsinites complied. It also notes that 31 other states have implemented face-covering requirements, including Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan.

The order covers individuals 5 years old or older who are in an enclosed space with someone who is not part of the same household. “Enclosed space” is defined as not only inside a building but any “confined space open to the public where individuals congregate, including but not limited to outdoor bars, outdoor restaurants, taxis, public transit, ride-share vehicles, and outdoor park structures.” Face coverings are also “strongly recommended” when outdoors if maintaining physical distancing from other people is not possible.

Even indoors, however, there are exceptions, which include the following:

  • While eating or drinking.
  • When communicating with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing and communication cannot be achieved through other means.
  • While obtaining a service that requires the temporary removal of the face covering, such as dental services.
  • While sleeping.
  • While swimming or on duty as a lifeguard.
  • While a single individual is giving a religious, political, media, educational, artistic, cultural, musical, or theatrical presentation for an audience, the single speaker may remove the face covering when actively speaking. While the face covering is removed, the speaker must remain at least 6 feet away from all other individuals at all times.
  • When engaging in work where wearing a face covering would create a risk to the individual, as determined by government safety guidelines.
  • When necessary to confirm the individual's identity, including when entering a bank, credit union, or other financial institution.
  • When federal or state law or regulations prohibit wearing a face covering.

In addition, in accordance with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, certain people are exempt from the face mask requirement:

  • Children between the ages of 2 and 5 are encouraged to wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible. The CDC does not recommend masks for children under the age of 2.
  • Individuals who have trouble breathing.
  • Individuals who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance.
  • Individuals with medical conditions, intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, or other sensory sensitivities that prevent the individual from wearing a face covering.
  • Incarcerated individuals. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections shall continue to comply with COVID-19 protocols to ensure the health and safety of its staff and individuals in its care. Local governments are strongly encouraged to continue or create COVID-19 protocols to ensure the health and safety of their staff and individuals in their care.

The entire order executive order declaring a public health emergency is available here and the emergency order requiring face coverings statewide can be found here.