On Thursday July 30th, 2020, amid a spike in coronavirus cases, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a Public Health Emergency and issued an Emergency Order requiring individuals to wear face coverings when indoors, or in an enclosed space, and not in a private residence––with some exceptions. The order is effective at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, August 1, 2020, and will expire on September 28, 2020 or by a subsequent superseding order. Noncompliance with the order could land you a fine of $200.00.
Wisconsin is joining 33 other states, and the District of Columbia, in requiring face coverings statewide. The other states that have issued similar mandates include Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Evers’ mandate will set up a continued battle with Republican legislative leaders who are opposed to such a requirement and successfully sued to overturn the governor’s previous “safer at home” order.
Broadly speaking, starting Saturday Wisconsinites will need to wear face coverings while indoors, unless you're inside a personal residence. Additionally, individuals will need to wear face coverings in “enclosed spaces” which the Order defines as including but not limited to: outdoor bars, outdoor restaurants, taxis, public transit, ride-share vehicles and outdoor park structures.
The Order specifically defines a face covering as a piece of cloth or other material that is worn to cover the nose and mouth completely. Furthermore, while implied in other state mandates, Gov. Evers’ order specifically states that face shields or masks with vents are not considered face coverings.
As one can imagine, this will impact nearly every person and industry across the State of Wisconsin and everyone has questions. In an effort to promote compliance, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (“DHS”) has released a Frequently Asked Questions which can be accessed here.
Knowing face coverings are not conducive to every situation, think swimming and eating, the Emergency Order provides for several exemptions. For example, children under the age of five are exempt from the order. Other exemptions include members of the state legislature and the state judiciary and people who have breathing issues, to list a few.
Here is a quick list of other situations where the face covering requirement does not apply:
- When you are eating or drinking.
- When you are communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing and you cannot communicate while wearing a mask.
- While sleeping (e.g., firefighters sleeping at a fire station).
- While swimming or being on duty as a life guard.
- When you are giving a religious, political, media, educational, artistic, cultural, musical, or theatrical presentation for an audience, so long as you have at least 6 feet between you and other individuals.
- When you are working if wearing a face covering poses a safety risk, as determined by government safety guidelines or regulations.
- When you need to temporarily remove your face covering to confirm your identify, such as entering a bank, credit union, or other financial institution or when having to show that you match your identification card when buying alcohol.
- When engaging in activities where federal or state law or regulations prohibit wearing a face covering
One of the exemptions listed should be given extra attention. The exemption is geared towards promoting the golden rule of any company: make sure all your workers are safe. Under the Paragraph 3(a) (vii) of the Emergency Order it states: a face covering may be removed, “when engaging in work where wearing a face covering would create a risk to the individual, as determined by government safety guidelines.” We have seen this language in other states, including Minnesota, and this broad language gives businesses the ability to consult their safety guidelines and ensure no worker is faced with a job hazard due to the mask mandate.
More information about the face covering requirements and exemptions can be found on the following WI DHS COVID-19 webpage. We also encourage you to follow @DHSWI on Facebook and Twitter, or dhs.wi on Instagram for more information on COVID-19.
As always, should you have any questions regarding the new requirements, need assistance in updating your businesses’ COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, or have specific needs in Wisconsin, the attorneys at Arthur Chapman Kettering Smetak & Pikala are here to help. Please also follow Arthur Chapman for more COVID-19 and other legal updates.