Wisconsin governor renews mask tenure despite legal challenge as pandemic worsens
© Reuters. Patient arrives outside Maimonides Medical Center, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Brooklyn, New York
By Brendan O’Brien and Maria Caspani
(Reuters) – The governor of Wisconsin extended a statewide mask mandate on Friday despite a court challenge from the Conservatives, renewing an emergency health ordinance requiring face covers in public spaces to curb an alarming increase COVID-19 infections.
The new executive order from Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, came six months after a coronavirus stay-at-home order issued last spring was overturned by the state Supreme Court in a lawsuit that Republican lawmakers brought against locking.
The same court heard oral argument on Monday in a similar lawsuit brought by a major Conservative donor from Wisconsin challenging Evers’ power to impose a prior face cover warrant, which is due to expire on Saturday.
Although medical experts insist that masks are one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of transmission of the highly contagious respiratory virus, mask wearing has become deeply politicized.
Many Republican politicians, led by President Donald Trump, have denigrated or criticized face covers as an infringement on personal freedom. Democratic President-elect Joe Biden has called it masking a “patriotic duty” that he advocates making nationally mandatory.
According to the American Association of Retired Persons, more than 30 governors have adopted statewide mask requirements at some point during the pandemic.
Evers’ decision to extend Wisconsin’s mask order for another 60 days marked the latest in a wave of new restrictions imposed by state and local authorities to bring down COVID-19 cases that are once again out of control with the start of winter.
Public health experts say greater social mix and indoor gatherings as the weather turns colder before the holiday season is fueling a worsening contagion, further straining health systems.
“Hospitals in Wisconsin are overwhelmed and facing staffing shortages,” Evers said in a press release. More than a third are operating at full capacity, with COVID patients occupying about a third of all intensive care unit beds, he said.
The average number of daily cases stands at more than 6,200, nearly double the number of cases recorded a month ago, Evers said.
His new order of health requires everyone to wear masks in enclosed spaces except at home where no one from outside the household is present. Enclosed spaces are defined as including outdoor bars and restaurants and public transportation.
Children under 5 are exempt, as are people with breathing difficulties.
BACK TOILET PANIC
As hospital beds fill with COVID-19 patients, new crackdowns on social and economic life across the country have stoked the resurgence of another worrying sign from the early days of the outbreak – panic buying.
Walmart (N 🙂 said Friday it “saw pockets of lower than normal availability” for toilet paper and cleaning supplies in some communities.
Buyers in a half-dozen U.S. cities told Reuters that disinfectant wipes were out of stock at some major discount retailers and large grocery chains.
Earlier today, Dr Deborah Birx, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, called on Americans to avoid unnecessary travel and limit social gatherings during next week’s Thanksgiving holiday.
Birx said more than half of the United States had been designated as a COVID-19 “red zone”, where the virus is endemic, and urged Americans to include only immediate family in Thanksgiving celebrations next Thursday.
“It’s faster, it’s wider and what worries me – it could be longer,” Birx told CNN. “I think it’s up to all of us right now to make sure it’s not longer.”
The single-day death toll on Thursday exceeded 2,000 for the first time since late June, according to a Reuters tally of public health data. The seven-day moving average of new daily COVID-19 cases reached more than 165,000 on Thursday.
The number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has jumped nearly 50% in the past two weeks, with more than 81,000 people being treated for the disease in hospitals by the end of Friday, the most at any time during the pandemic. Hospitalizations reached record levels in 29 states in November.
In positive sign, Pfizer Inc (N 🙂 said it will seek authorization for emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine from U.S. regulators, the first such app.
Final trial results reported this week showed Pfizer’s vaccine to be 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 without major safety concerns.
In the meantime, a growing number of Americans questioned whether new public calls to avoid crowds, wash their hands and wear masks went far enough.
“I’m not optimistic that people will follow the many warnings,” Emily Handel, 44, a recruiter and mother of three young children in Columbus, Ohio, told Reuters. “A lot of people think they are an exception, it won’t happen to them.”
Although COVID-19 restrictions have received more bipartisan support from heads of state in recent weeks, South Dakota Governor Kristin Nome, a Republican and close Trump ally, has refused to limit gatherings for Thanksgiving.
“In South Dakota, we won’t stop or discourage you from thanking God and spending time together on Thanksgiving,” Nome said in a statement Friday.
The University of Washington Institute for Health Measurement and Evaluation on Thursday updated its widely cited COVID-19 forecasting model, projecting the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States to reach 471,000. here March.