Wisconsin will require the use of face coverings indoors with some exceptions starting Saturday, Aug. 1, punishable by up to a $200 fine, under a public health emergency declaration and order issued July 30 by 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 in a news release. “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.”

PREVIOUSLY: Pierce County approves public health ordinance | River Falls encourages, but doesn't mandate, face coverings

Local and state officials are authorized to enforce the governor's order, according to an FAQ issued by the state.

It goes into effect 12:01 a.m. Aug. 1 and expires automatically on Sept. 28 unless rescinded earlier.

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Pierce County Health Officer AZ Snyder in a statement Thursday reiterated the importance of face coverings.

"We know from the experiences of other countries that the level of disease in the community directly impacts the chances of schools remaining open," Snyder said. "Universal face covering is one of a set of strategies we're using as a community to give our children the best chance of staying in school in-person this fall. I thank Pierce County residents for continuing to be great neighbors and taking steps to protect each other from COVID-19."

There were 160 COVID-19 cases in Pierce County as of July 30, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. In St. Croix County there have been 433 cases and two deaths.

The order requires everyone age 5 and up to wear face coverings indoors or when in an enclosed space, except for private residences. Also exempt from the order:

  • Individuals with health conditions or disabilities that preclude wearing a mask
  • When eating or drinking
  • When swimming or serving as a lifeguard
  • Anyone giving a religious, political, media, educational, artistic, cultural, musical or theatrical presentation for an audience, so long as six feet of distancing is maintained

More exemptions are listed in the FAQ.

Face coverings also are recommended outside when distancing of six feet can't be maintained.

St. Croix County Sheriff's Office said it would not focus on seeking out or responding to face covering complaints in a Facebook post that outlined the difference between public safety and public health.

"The virus is a public health concern, and I feel should be left to the public health officials," the post read.

Investigating those not complying with the mask mandate takes deputies away from their public safety duties and can have tie up emergency dispatch lines, according to the post.

It continued:

"While the governor likely has noble intentions, the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office will continue to focus on crimes and public safety offenses, as opposed to seeking out or responding to complaints about those without face coverings."

The Evers administration cited a "drastic rise" in COVID-19 cases across the Badger State as the reason for Thursday's order. All regions of the state and 61 out of 72 counties reported high activity of the respiratory illness — a classification for the spread of the disease based on the number of cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks as well as the percent of change in cases compared to the previous week.

Wisconsin averaged 938 new cases of COVID-19 the week of July 22-26, up from an average of 556 new cases per day the week of July 1-7, the news release states.

“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,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said in a news release. “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.”

Representatives from HealthPartners hospitals in the St. Croix Valley and western Wisconsin on Friday issued a statement supporting the governor's order.

"Wearing masks, social distancing, frequent hand-washing and staying home when sick, are simple ways for us all to look out for one another," executive leader Ted Wegleitner said in a news release. "Using a face covering is also an act of compassion for our colleagues who are caring for those with COVID. Our team is committed to doing everything we can to support health, prevent illness and compassionately care for people with illness and disease.”

“This is the right move — it’s the safe thing to do for our community and for individuals,” added Dr. Martin Richards, emergency medicine director.

This story was updated July 31, 2020, with additional comments from area law enforcement and health care organizations.

Read the governor's order below: