By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — As coronavirus cases continue to increase across Wisconsin, especially on college campuses, Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday that he has not yet decided whether to extend his statewide mask mandate that is set to expire Sept. 28.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, whether we extend it or not,” Evers said of the order. “But we believe it was absolutely legal.”
Evers, a Democrat, defended the mask order while taking questions during an online Milwaukee Press Club event. The mask order took effect Aug. 1 and is currently being challenged by a conservative law firm. He said his frustration with those challenging the order, who claim it was an overreach of his powers, was “pretty high.”
“This is not about safety,” Evers said of the lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. “This is this is about, essentially, taking away the authority of the governor of the state of Wisconsin, whether it’s me or somebody else. It’s disappointing, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise to us.”
The latest Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday showed that 57% approve of Evers’ handling of the coronavirus outbreak so far. He fares better than president Donald Trump, who received a 41% approval of how he’s handled the virus outbreak.
Evers’ overall approval rating dropped from 57% in August to 51% this month. Trump’s approval rating was at 44%, consistent with where it has been since June.
The poll of 802 registered voters in Wisconsin was conducted between Aug. 30 and Monday. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
By Wednesday, there had been more than 83,000 positive COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin and 1,183 deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services. Wisconsin’s death count is the 29th highest in the country overall and the 40th highest per capita at 20 deaths per 100,000 people.
In the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by more than 11%. There were 189 new cases per 100,000 people in Wisconsin over the past two weeks, which ranks 23rd in the country for new cases per capita.
The Marquette poll showed that not everyone is anxious to get vaccinated for the virus.
Thirty-five percent of those polled said they would definitely get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available, while 15% said they probably would not get vaccinated and 18% said they definitely would not.
Evers blamed Trump with sowing distrust of a vaccine, downplaying concerns about the virus and raising hope about a vaccine before the election.
“When you have a national leader who has vacillated up and down on whether there is such a thing as a pandemic and there isn’t, and it’s a hoax and it’s not, and now we’re making promises about Election Day … it politicizes it in a way that it shows up now in the polls,” Evers said.
Evers said he will get vaccinated, but he wants front-line workers like doctors, nurses, police and fire fighters to get it before him. He added that he thinks the vaccine should be required, but “I just don’t know if it’s feasible in this political environment.”
Evers also said it was “unacceptable” that some people have yet to receive unemployment benefits they filed for when the pandemic began. He said he did not anticipate the backlog would continue into 2021.
Evers supports bringing students back to University of Wisconsin college campuses, even as they see outbreaks of COVID-19 cases. The poll showed 51% were uncomfortable with reopening schools, up from 38% in June.
When asked whether he thought fans should be allowed at Green Bay Packers games this season, Evers said he would support whatever the team decides to do. The Packers are playing their first two games at Lambeau Field with no fans.
“I can’t imagine full stands at any point this year with the Packers,” Evers said. “That would seem to be unlikely unless there’s some magical vaccine and … we clean this up this fall.”