Wisconsin will require the use of face coverings indoors with some exceptions starting Saturday, Aug. 1, punishable by up to a $200 fine, under a public health emergency declaration and order issued Thursday, July 30, by Gov. Tony Evers.

“While our local health departments have been doing a heck of a job responding to this pandemic in our communities, the fact of the matter is, this virus doesn't care about any town, city, or county boundary, and we need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track,” Evers said in a news release. “We’ve said all along that we’re going to let science and public health experts be our guide in responding to this pandemic, and we know that masks and face coverings will save lives.

"While I know emotions are high when it comes to wearing face coverings in public, my job as governor is to put people first and to do what's best for the people of our state, so that's what I am going to do.”

Local and state officials are authorized to enforce the governor's order, according to an FAQ issued by the state. It goes into effect 12:01 a.m. Aug. 1 and expires automatically on Sept. 28 unless rescinded earlier.

Pierce County Health Officer AZ Snyder reiterated the importance of face coverings for Wisconsin residents.

"We know from the experiences of other countries that the level of disease in the community directly impacts the chances of schools remaining open," Snyder said in a statement Thursday. "Universal face covering is one of a set of strategies we're using as a community to give our children the best chance of staying in school in-person this fall."

There were 160 COVID-19 cases in Pierce County as of July 30, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. In St. Croix County there have been 433 cases and two deaths.

The order requires everyone age 5 and older to wear face coverings indoors or when in an enclosed space, except for private residences. Also exempt from the order:

  • Individuals with health conditions or disabilities that preclude wearing a mask.
  • When eating or drinking.
  • When swimming or serving as a lifeguard.
  • Anyone giving a religious, political, media, educational, artistic, cultural, musical or theatrical presentation for an audience, so long as 6 feet of distancing is maintained.

More exemptions are listed in the FAQ.

Face coverings also are recommended outside when distancing of 6 feet can't be maintained.

The Evers administration cited a "drastic rise" in COVID-19 cases across the Badger State as the reason for Thursday's order. All regions of the state and 61 out of 72 counties reported high activity of the respiratory illness — a classification for the spread of the disease based on the number of cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks as well as the percent of change in cases compared to the previous week.

Wisconsin averaged 938 new cases of COVID-19 the week of July 22-26, up from an average of 556 new cases per day the week of July 1-7, the news release states.