Racine, Green Bay and Superior joined Madison and Milwaukee as Wisconsin cities that passed mandates requiring people to wear masks in certain public settings, though Gov. Tony Evers has resisted issuing a statewide order like those in place in many nearby states.
More than half of states have statewide mask mandates, including Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota, which announced its on Wednesday.
The Racine, Green Bay and Superior city councils approved their cities' requirements during meetings Tuesday night. They all take effect on Monday. Racine County has the second-highest infection rate in the state, behind only Milwaukee County. Racine County's infection rate is about 14 cases per 1,000 people.
Green Bay is the sate's third largest city and Racine is fifth. They, along with Superior, join the two largest cities, Milwaukee and Madison, and several other smaller communities and counties across the state in requiring masks.
Even as more local governments enact their own mask ordinances, creating a patchwork of mask requirements across the state, Evers has not issued a statewide mandate. The first-term Democrat said earlier this month he was unlikely to enact such a mandate because the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down his “safer at home” order in May. That did not include a mask requirement, but the court said Evers overstepped his authority by requiring most non-essential businesses to close during the start of the outbreak.
Cases of COVID-19 have spiked in Wisconsin since mid-June, hitting a single-day record high of 1,117 new confirmed cases on Tuesday.
“The governor continues to be concerned about the increases in cases we’re seeing across our state and is evaluating additional steps we can take to help prevent further spread of COVID-19,” Evers' spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, said Wednesday. “We encourage folks to stay home, limit their social interactions and travel, and wear masks whenever they go out to help flatten the curve and keep our families, neighbors, and communities safe.”
Even so, pressure was building among Democrats for Evers to take action.
“Wisconsin needs a mask mandate,” tweeted Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson, of Milwaukee, the city with the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state.
Evers did issue a mandate earlier this month for state executive branch employees to wear masks while working in state buildings.
Republicans who control the Legislature, and who could vote to pass a statewide mask mandate, have shown little to no interest in doing that. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have both spoken out against a statewide mask requirement. Fitzgerald has also insisted that employees of the Senate do not need to wear masks when at work in the Capitol.
“I won’t be pushed around by Dane County or the Evers Administration — we control the Senate wing," Fitzgerald said this month when mask mandates for Dane County and state workers took effect. "Senators should be able to decide what they do in their own offices.”
Health officials around the world, and in Wisconsin, have pointed to wearing masks as one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of the virus. President Donald Trump, who for months resisted wearing a face covering in public, on Tuesday encouraged them to be worn. Trump tweeted a photo of himself in a face mask Monday, calling it an act of patriotism.