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LA CROSSE, Wis. — Wisconsin physicians today called on residents to continue practicing pandemic safety measures, including wearing a mask and getting vaccinated, to protect themselves during the pandemic after the state Supreme Court ruled to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency order requiring people to wear masks in public. Wisconsin’s statewide mask protocol was scheduled to end Monday, but was immediately vacated with last week’s ruling, and Gov. Evers now cannot issue more orders without approval of the Republican Legislature, which has sought to overturn them.
“The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to end our state’s safety protocol requiring masks endangers our hard-fought effort to get back to normal and keep people safe because the facts and the science all agree: Wearing a mask can save lives,” said Dr. Robert Freedland, MD, an ophthalmologist practicing in La Crosse. “Wisconsin is not out of the woods yet and the court’s ruling is a step backward. Too many people are still getting sick and families continue to suffer. Until we get more Wisconsinites vaccinated, we must continue to practice safety measures, and this includes wearing a mask, socially distancing and washing our hands.”
Last week’s court ruling also threatens $50 million a month in federal food assistance to low-income people — the demographic that has been disproportionately harmed in the pandemic, with low-wage, Black and Latino/Hispanic individuals hospitalized and dying at higher rates compared with the general population. Congress has agreed to dramatically increase funding for food programs in states that have emergency orders in place.
“When 70 to 90% of our community has been vaccinated, we may be able to relax the social distancing and mask wearing because it will be unlikely that a person with the infection will come in contact with someone who doesn’t have immunity,” said Dr. William Reed, a cardiothoracic surgeon in La Crosse. “We cannot let our guard down until we reach this point. We must continue the safety precautions of mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing and getting vaccinated to protect our co-workers, our friends and our families. As healthcare workers, we are grateful to those leaders and public health experts that continue to spread the message that hand washing hygiene, wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated are the key to beating this pandemic.”
The physicians’ appeal comes as COVID-19 outbreaks driven by more contagious variants spread in Wisconsin, most recently at a child care center, with around three dozen children, workers and family members infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the so-called “UK variant” of COVID-19 has infected 139 people in Wisconsin as of Monday. The CDC warns that the UK variant is more infectious and potentially more severe than the predominant COVID-19 strain. Two other more infectious variants, the Brazil and South Africa strains, have also been reported in Wisconsin. Researchers are still gathering data on the effectiveness of the vaccines on these newer COVID-19 variants.
One in three people in Wisconsin have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Public health experts estimate community immunity can be achieved when between 70 to 90 percent of a population has been vaccinated. Vaccines create immunity without causing illness or causing complications, and considered the more effective and ethical path toward community immunity. The alternative is natural infection, which would mean at least 200 million Americans would need to get sick — resulting in 3.6 million deaths with the U.S. fatality rate of 1.8 percent — to achieve community immunity.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, Apr. 6, 2021
NOTE: The physicians above are speaking in their capacity as members of the Committee to Protect Medicare. They should be identified only as indicated in this news release.