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Surge in youth related COVID-19 infections causes Wisconsin to extend statewide mask mandate

Governor Tony Evers declared a new public health emergency in Wisconsin on September 22 due to recent surge in cases among young people and issued a new face coverings order effective immediately.

Executive Order #90 and Emergency Order #1 went into immediate effect and will expire after sixty days or with a subsequent superseding order. The governor previously declared a public health emergency under Executive Order #82, which remains in effect.

“We continue to learn more about this virus, but what we do know is that we are facing a new and dangerous phase of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Wisconsin,” said Gov. Evers. “We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus. We need folks to start taking this seriously, and young people especially—please stay home as much as you are able, skip heading to the bars, and wear a mask whenever you go out. We need your help to stop the spread of this virus, and we all have to do this together.”

With the start of the school year, Wisconsin is seeing a surge in cases, especially among young people. In fact, 18 to 24-year-olds have a case rate five times higher than any other age group. This significant increase has only occurred within the past month and appears to be driven by in-person social gatherings. Last week, eight Wisconsin cities were listed among the top twenty cities in the United States where COVID-19 cases were rising fastest, and six of those eight cities have University of Wisconsin System campuses.

“The current surge among young people is concerning, but it is important to remember that this increase in cases is not confined to college campuses,” said Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “Students come to these campuses from across the state, and we worry about the effect their return from an area with a high infection rate could have on their home communities. That is why it is imperative we take action to curb transmission now – to protect residents of Wisconsin in every corner of the state.”

Wisconsin is now experiencing unprecedented, near-exponential growth of the COVID-19 pandemic with the daily number of new cases rising from 678 on August 31 to 1,791 on September 21 a 2.6-fold increase in three weeks, driven in part by the unprecedented number of infections among 18 to 24 year-olds.

“We need to remember that most respiratory viruses see their peak activity in Wisconsin between late fall and early spring,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s Chief Medical Officer and the State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases. “We need to do everything we can now to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prepare for the winter. That is why we need to continue wearing masks and practicing physical distancing. It is also why we encourage everyone to get a flu shot this year; the flu shot cannot protect you from COVID-19, but by helping protect you from the flu, it helps strengthen our COVID-19 response here in Wisconsin by preserving hospital and testing capacity.”

On July 30, Governor Evers issued Executive Order #82 to declare a public health emergency as a result of a spike in COVID-19 cases in counties throughout the state. At the same time, Governor Evers issued a statewide face covering mandate. New cases of COVID-19 slowed down in August as a result of the mandate, but since campuses reopened the last several weeks, there has been a new surge in cases across our state.

With the new face covering order, Wisconsin residents ages five and older are required to wear a face covering when they are indoors or in an enclosed space with anyone outside their household or living unit.

The Milwaukee Independent began reporting on what was then referred to as the mysterious “Wuhan Virus” in January. Other local media did not picked-up on the story until many weeks later. Our early features focused on the economic impact, social issues, and health concerns long before other Milwaukee news organizations even mentioned the coronavirus. Over the following months, we have published more than 500 articles about the pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Milwaukee residents. This extensive body of work can be found on our COVID-19 Special Report page, a chronological index of links by month. Our editorial voice remains dedicated to informing the public about this health crisis for as long as it persists.
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