Dane County, Wisconsin residents had our fears and suspicions confirmed on Monday: The mask mandate is never going to end.
Janel Heinrich, a bureaucrat in the Madison and Dane County health department, first issued the order in August. Then she renewed it in September. After the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to strike it down last month, she’s going for round three.
The latest iteration of the mandate appears to be exactly the same as the two before it, except this one will be in effect until Nov. 5. But if history tells us anything, there’s no reason to believe it will be lifted before the holidays and probably not until sometime in 2022 absent court intervention.
Here in what’s been one of the most vaccinated counties in the entire country, where the deep-blue capital city of Madison is located, the unelected bureaucrats at the helm of public health have decreed that everyone must wear a face covering when they’re inside. And they do mean everyone — all the way down to toddlers as young as two years old and including even the people who are already vaccinated.
That covers many because, as I said, Dane County is widely vaxxed. According to Dane County’s numbers as of this writing, more than 70 percent of residents are fully vaccinated — with children under 18, including those to whom the vaccine is not yet available, seemingly already factored into that denominator. The percent of residents at least partially vaccinated jumps to a whopping 96.3 percent among the more vulnerable 65 and older population. The state estimates that herd immunity in Dane County could be as high as 90 percent. NINETY.
Meanwhile, the seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths in this county have remained basically nil. When round one of the most recent mask order went into effect in August, the seven-day average had been steady at zero deaths since the middle of May, and by the end of September, the average was only one death. The total death toll in Dane County — home to a major college town, 2020 riots, and well-attended protests, mind you — after nearly two years is only 358 among a population of more than half a million people.
Despite all that data, residents here must keep their faces covered in perpetuity. For those who have seen the numbers and opted to unmask, their access to otherwise-accessible businesses has been hampered.
One lawsuit before the state Supreme Court, brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, challenges the authority of bureaucrats like Heinrich to issue such orders. Although it was filed months ago, it would change the game in Dane County if the justices decide to take it.
“WILL recently petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review a challenge we filed last January to the health department’s authority to issue such orders,” WILL Deputy Counsel Luke Berg said in a statement. “We continue to believe the health department’s orders and mandates are unlawful and unenforceable. Only the county board can impose such restrictions.”
The court might not take it, however. The justices could consider it later this month, sometime in 2022, or not at all. While we’re talking about lawsuits, it’s worth noting that if the Supreme Court had done its job last month when a lawsuit was brought over an earlier iteration of the mask mandate, there wouldn’t still have been a mandate for Heinrich to extend this week. Healthy Dane County residents would be free to breathe uninhibited.
Instead, on a 4-3 vote, the court abdicated its responsibility when it denied a petition for leave and injunctive relief in September. In response, a predictably emboldened health bureaucrat flexed her muscles one again and decided we’ve all got to keep our masks on.
“In Wisconsin, we are the court of last resort,” wrote Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, who wanted to grant relief. She lamented the fact that the designated “law-declaring court” opted to leave that responsibility to circuit and appellate courts.
“By the time we have the opportunity to fulfil our constitutional role, mandates and orders may come and go, and the public may be left in substantial uncertainty. This case, in fact, could become moot by the time it may wind its way through the system to be next in front of our court. All the while, personal liberties are implicated, without clear guidance from this state’s highest court. Old adages remain true today: justice delayed is justice denied,” she noted presciently.
Ziegler was correct, and because the court failed to “say what the law is,” residents of this county have continued to give up personal freedom and suffer under onerous mandates that are not data-driven. They’ll continue to do so now until at least Nov. 5.
If the court doesn’t act before then, there’s no reason to believe we’ll be allowed to stop masking then either.