Hours after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate on Wednesday, things didn’t look much different at businesses around Jefferson County.
Mask signs still greeted customers at the door and owners said they will continue the status quo.
Tim Humphrey, owner of Humphrey Floral and Gift in downtown Fort Atkinson, said he will continue a masking policy for the sake of his employees.
“I personally feel as though we are not out of it yet,” he said. “We still need to take precautions.”
An employee at Piggly Wiggly in Jefferson relayed that owner Alex Malicki had said that people still will be encouraged to wear masks in the supermarket.
Julie Nordeen, marketing manager for the Fireside Dinner Theater in Fort Atkinson, said the establishment is certified by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s “Ready to Serve Safely” program and operate under those guidelines that recommends following CDC guidelines, among others, which still suggests masks be worn by staff and guests.
“With that in mind, we are continuing to following the suggested guidelines for masks, distancing and party size,” she said in an email.
While Jefferson County does not have a mask mandate of its own in place, neighboring counties like Rock and Dane do.
Rock County residents must continue wearing masks when they leave home, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling.
A Feb. 4 order from the Rock County Public Health Department mandates face coverings for everyone ages 5 or older when indoors in public or in enclosed spaces with people not from their own households.
That mandate is active until May 5 regardless of the state’s mandate.
“We are continuing to stand by our mask mandate because we feel that it is still a very important part of controlling the spread of the virus in Rock County,” said Jessica Turner, public health communications specialist.
Officials nationwide have warned against relaxing safety guidelines too soon because many more people could die before the country reaches herd immunity.
“It is still very important for everyone to continue to wear masks in public, even after being vaccinated,” Turner said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who have been fully vaccinated — meaning two weeks have past since they received two shots of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and one shot of Johnson and Johnson vaccine — can be around other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks.
But vaccinated people should continue to wear masks when around unvaccinated people because there is not yet enough research to know if vaccinated people could spread the virus to unvaccinated individuals.
The state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Evers violated state law by issuing multiple emergency orders to extend the mandate for months.
It found that Evers needed legislative approval to issue more orders after the expiration of the initial 60-day mandate he issued in August.
“The question in this case is not whether the governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully,” Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote for the majority. “We conclude he did not.”
The state Supreme Court in May struck down the stay-at-home order Evers issued, finding that his health secretary lacked the authority to issue such an order.
A state appeals court blocked Evers’ attempts to limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other indoor places in October.
Wednesday’s decision comes as COVID-19 cases have been rising in the state.
There were 563 new cases of the virus reported in the state on Wednesday. In Jefferson County, 8,047 people have tested positive for the virus in the last year.
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 in the city of Milwaukee and Dane County.
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 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.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.