Sometime this week, Wisconsin, as well as Georgia, will hit the 100,000 cases per million residents mark. Right now, by that metric, Wisconsin is the 19th worst-hit state in the union. What makes Wisconsin so different from so many states is that it has a Democratic governor trying to protect the state from the pandemic and a Republican-controlled state legislature fighting him tooth and nail... along with a state Supreme Court, with a majority of right-wing ideologues and hacks who oppose the Governor Evers' efforts. Yesterday, Wisconsin reported 563 new cases and 10 more deaths, bringing the state's gruesome totals to 577,195 cases and 6,622 deaths.
This morning, Axios reported that Wisconsin's weeky new cases have gone up 38.4% in the week ending March 30, worse than its neighbors Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois-- and catching up with Michigan, the country's second worst-hit state for 4th wave infections. "America may be at the beginning of a fourth wave in the pandemic. It will almost certainly be far less deadly than the previous three, but this persistent failure to contain the virus has real consequences, and will only make it harder to put COVID-19 behind us. On average, roughly 63,000 Americans per day were diagnosed with coronavirus infections over the past week. That’s a 17% increase from the week before, and echoes the rising caseloads of the pandemic’s second wave last summer... Hospitalizations are still rising-- they’re just not likely to increase as dramatically as they have before. Greater spread also fosters the growth of new variants. The variants driving this outbreak are more contagious than the original strain; future variants will likely be less susceptible to our existing vaccines. Failing to control the virus now means it’ll be hanging around and flaring up longer into the future."
This morning Assemblywoman Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) told me that "The health of the Wisconsin economy is related to the health of the Wisconsin people. Wearing masks, along with vaccinations, is one of the most effective ways to help our state to get on the other side of this virus. If my Republican colleagues believe in science and in the health of our economy, they will join me in taking immediate legislative action to pass a bill requiring masks across the state. Now is not the time to take our foot off of the gas. Now is the time to double down on science and to work together so that we can get through the pandemic stronger, not more divided." The operative word there is "if" and, alas, her Republican colleagues do not believe in science. They believe in Trump.
NPR was on the air warning about the 4th wave this morning and especially about the increase in dangerous variants. Too late for the ideological pygmies who dominate the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which struck down the state's mask mandate yesterday, a followup to last year's decision to strike down the governor's stay-at-home order as "unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable."
Wisconsin elects Supreme court justices to 10 year terms and, although the most recent election went to Democrat Jill Karofsky, formerly a batch of crackpot right-wing extremists were elected (as well as lunatic fringe sociopath Rebecca Bradley, obsessed with her bizarre lifelong war against the LGBTQ community, who was appointed by Scott Walker in 2015). By a vote of 4-3, the court sentenced Wisconsin to a deadly fourth wave, purposefully "stripping the governor of one of his last remaining tools to curb the spread of the coronavirus as the state stands on the precipice of another surge in infections." The 4 Republicans, led by neo-fascist justice Brian Hagedorn, "found that Evers needed legislative approval to issue more orders after the expiration of the initial 60-day mandate he issued in August."
Wednesday's decision comes as COVID-19 cases have been rising in the state. The seven-day daily case average has jumped from fewer than 400 in mid-March to 470 as of Wednesday. State Department of Health Services Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the state is seeing “warning signs” that another surge in infections is about to begin.
Local mask mandates remain in place. The city of Milwaukee and Dane County, which is home to the state capital of Madison, both have issued such mandates. But invalidating the statewide order leaves Evers with few options to slow the virus' spread on a broad scale.
Evers said in a statement that he's trying to keep Wisconsin residents safe and that he used science to guide his decisions. He promised to keep working to get people vaccinated and urged people to continue to wear masks.
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, a member of the court’s three-justice liberal minority, lamented in a dissenting opinion that the ruling hampers the ability of Wisconsin governors to protect lives.
“This is no run-of-the-mill case,” she wrote. “We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that so far has claimed the lives of over a half million people in this country. And with the stakes so high, the majority not only arrives at erroneous conclusions, but it also obscures the consequence of its decision. Unfortunately, the ultimate consequence of the majority’s decision is that it places yet another roadblock to an effective governmental response to COVID-19.”
Republican lawmakers applauded the ruling. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said Evers abused his power and that the court's decision affirms the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said people and businesses should be free to make their own decisions about what's best for them “and don't need state government telling them how to live their lives.”
Evers argued that he could issue multiple health emergencies because of the changing nature of the pandemic. The mask order first took effect in August and Evers extended it four times since then, most recently on Feb. 4 immediately after Republican legislators repealed it.
The case challenging the mask mandate was brought by Jere Fabick, who gave more than $350,000 to Republican or otherwise conservative candidates in Wisconsin between 1994 and the middle of 2020, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
In 2016, Fabick gave $20,000 to conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley. Fabick is a board member and policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank, and also the president of a multi-state Caterpillar equipment and engine dealer.
Yesterday, the Assembly's minority leader Gordon Hintz, pointed out that "Politics should have no place in responding to a public health emergency. Yet today’s decision ensures politics will be front-and-center for all future public health emergencies in our state... [A]fter today’s ruling, I fear Wisconsinites’ health and safety will be at even greater risk in the future."
State Senator Chris Larson, a likely U.S. Senate candidate, noted this morning that "The Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is still meeting virtually, by the way, decided that emergencies are only allowed to last 60 days. Ignoring the reality we've all been facing this past year, they voted 4-3 to block Governor Evers from declaring an emergency and issuing further mask mandates without the legislature’s approval. Unfortunately, Wisconsin has had the least active legislature in the country through the pandemic and a majority in the senate never wear masks in the chamber. As one would expect, Republicans have been cheering the ruling while they continue to abdicate their own responsibility to help. Even former state senator and now US Rep. Tom Tiffany was getting in on the anti-science action at a recent town hall where he implied his supporters should boycott businesses that require masks and admitted to telling his adult children not to get vaccinated. As if people needlessly contracting COVID and suffering wasn't enough, it's actually even worse than it appears. By failing to have an emergency declaration in place, Wisconsin is set to lose $49 million in federal food aid per month. That's right: these guys are literally taking food out of poor people's mouths by continuing to do nothing. So, yeah, here in Wisconsin, it’s going to be up to local elected leaders to have their own mandates in place and up to individuals doing the right thing as we do our best to look out for each other in our severely gerrymandered state.
Wisconsin has 72 counties and more than 1,800 municipalities, which makes for a hodgepodge of regulations now. Waukesha, one of the most conservative counties in the state, announced that there would be no local mask mandate in this 59.6% Trumpist hellhole. Outagamie County's mask mandate went into effect this morning. Next door in Winnebago County there's no mandate, although Winnebago' biggest city, Oshkosh, has one that went into effect the moment the Republican justices voted to end the state's mandate. Wisconsin businesses are now in the awkward position of deciding what to do about requiring and enforcing their own mask-up rules.
Besides Outagamie, counties with mandates include Dane, Eau Claire, Rock and cities with mandates include Milwaukee, Racine, Beloit, Kenosha, Bayfield, Green Bay and Ashland.