PoCo officials react to Evers’ mask order

By Brandi Makuski

Portage Co. officials say a statewide mask mandate issued by Gov. Tony Evers on July 30 has placed the same standard on all municipalities across Wisconsin, and many say they are glad for some kind of guidance from the state.

County Executive Chris Holman said Evers’ order comes at a time when Wisconsin has become a patchwork of mask orders, with many municipalities still grappling with the idea.

“However one feels about the virus and any of the issues surrounding our state and local responses to it,
it has become abundantly clear over the past few months that counties and municipalities benefit from
having guidance from the state on an issue that should be handled at the state level,” Holman said on Thursday.

Holman said the county will continue “establishing a body of knowledge and legal analysis to help guide the conversations that need to take place to figure out how counties and any future county actions fit within state statutes and the law in general. This is especially important work to continue, as the long-term future of these orders is uncertain.”

Evers on Thursday declared a public health emergency and issued the Executive Order requiring face masks anytime an individual over the age of 5 is indoors and not in a private residence, with exceptions during certain activities, and for those with certain health conditions. The order becomes effective at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 1.

Anyone who violates the order would be subject to a civil fine of $200. The order expires Sept. 28.

“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 in a statement, citing the recent rise in cases across the state.

More than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Wisconsin on Thursday. The death toll in the state has increased by eight, bringing the overall total to 919.

The total number of confirmed cases stands at 52,108. That includes the one-day increase of 1,059 positive tests reported on July 30, which, according to DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm, meant Wisconsin was “going in the wrong direction.”

Health Officer Gary Garske said the announcement doesn’t change the county’s plans for dealing with COVID-19 but said the order give Portage Co. “yet another opportunity to communicate our message about how the public can best navigate an exceptionally challenging time due to COVID-19.”

Ray Przybelski, Director of Portage County’s Health and Human Services Department, said the order was a surprise. 

“We certainly recognize that there has been a lot of discussion over the last week, especially after Minnesota introduced their masking mandate,” he said. “No one has a crystal ball with any of this, so no we did not expect a statewide mandate to be forthcoming.”