Groups urge lawmakers to keep governor’s mask order

Hospitals, public health groups join health care unions and concert venue to oppose GOP resolution

Mass transportation - masks required bus
Photo by Michal Dziekonski from Pexels

With the state Senate poised to take up a resolution Tuesday that could kill the state’s current COVID-19 health emergency — and the mask requirement ordered by Gov. Tony Evers — several organizations are calling on lawmakers to back the governor.

The organizations are urging a ‘no’ vote on Senate Joint Resolution 3, introduced last week and scheduled for a vote in the Senate on Tuesday. If the resolution passes both the Senate and the Assembly, it would end Evers’ Jan. 19 executive order declaring a health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution, which does not require the governor’s signature, would also end the statewide order requiring masks in public that was issued along with the emergency declaration.

The vote comes as President Joe Biden has called on all Americans to wear masks for 100 days to curb the transmission of the coronavirus, and signed executive orders requiring masks in federal buildings and on trains, planes and public transportation.

By the end of the day on Monday, Jan. 25, six organizations — the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards and the Wisconsin Council of Churches — had registered with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission that they are lobbying against the resolution.

The number exploded Tuesday morning to 17 organizations registered as opposing the measure. No groups had registered in favor of the resolution as of noon on Tuesday.

At the same time, a Milwaukee-based concert venue is urging supporters to contact their lawmakers and oppose the resolution. Two health care worker unions are also campaigning to keep the mask requirement.

“Other than vaccines, mask-wearing is one of the few tools we have in our arsenal to help prevent spreading COVID-19 even further than it already has,” declared Dr. Bud Chumbley, the Wisconsin Medical Society CEO, in a statement issued Monday. “Studies show that wearing masks helps slow the spread of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and that government requirements to wear masks correlates to reduced COVID-19 spread [in comparison to] locations without such orders.”

The statement called on “all of our government leaders to support physicians and other front-line health care workers by promoting mask-wearing as an effective tool against COVID-19.”

In a note filed with its lobbying registration on the resolution, the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) stated that it opposed the measure because “it would effectively end Wisconsin’s current masking order.”

The Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC) posted a notice on its advocacy web page, along with an online form that visitors to the page can use to send an electronic message to their state representatives and senators.

“As a person of faith, I urge you to oppose Senate Joint Resolution 3 to terminate the public health emergency order and end the mask mandate,” the organization’s proposed message states.

The WCC message adds: “For over eight months, the Legislature has failed to take action to protect us from this ongoing public emergency, even as waves of infection and fatalities have ravaged our state. Instead, Republican legislators have repeatedly sought to block the Governor’s efforts to save lives and keep our health care system from being overwhelmed.”

In a joint statement, two unions representing nurses and other health care workers added their support for the mask requirement. 

Jeff Weber, a Milwaukee nurse and president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, said health care workers have been campaigning for legislation that would guarantee paid sick leave, a pay boost during the pandemic, workers’ compensation for job-related COVID-19 illness and free testing and treatment for COVID-19-related conditions. 

“Instead of passing this necessary legislation and showing their support for the frontline workers they call heroes, Republican lawmakers are putting politics before people,” Weber stated. 

“We should be able to count on our elected officials to do everything in their power to support us,” added Ramon Argandona, a Madison hospital worker and President of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin. “Instead, we see them trying to take us backwards, vowing to undo critical, widely supported public health measures in order to score political points.”

Meanwhile, in an email sent Monday, The Pabst Theater Group called on its supporters to urge their legislators to vote against the resolution.

The Pabst Theater Group operates several concert venues in Milwaukee that have gone dark since March 11, when Evers declared the first state health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than a month before Evers instituted the first statewide mask requirement, the theater operator led a business coalition that advocated for Milwaukee’s own mask ordinance in June. The venue is also active in the national advocacy group National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which has lobbied on behalf of the entertainment industry.

“That mask rule has helped Milwaukee to keep COVID in check,” the Pabst email states. “There are few other local mask requirements in place in the rest of Wisconsin, our statewide mask mandate is the best that we’ve got outside of Milwaukee.”

The organization contends that keeping the mask mandate intact will help make it possible for concerts to resume sooner by tamping down the virus. The email message blames lawmakers’ attempt to end the statewide order on “a political argument.” It includes a link to the state Legislature’s online map of districts and directs readers to use it to get the names and contact information for their own legislators.

“Send them each a quick email or make a quick call — tell them for the health, safety and FOR THE ECONOMY of Wisconsin, vote against any legislation to repeal the mask requirement,” the email states.