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GOP Senator calls for session to end mask order

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Republican State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R - Saukville) said Friday he wants the state legislature to return to session and strike down Governor Tony Evers' extension of the statewide mask mandate.

Stroebel said local governments and public health departments should be the ones to issue restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic because the spread of the virus is worse in some parts of the state than others.

"With an emergency order, it gives very strong powers to the executive branch and we understand that, for 60 days, that's in our laws and it makes sense," said Stroebel. "But the problem is, we're dealing with the same 'emergency,' the same pandemic and he doesn't have the right to continue to just do a series of 60-day emergency orders."

Stroebel and GOP Senator Steve Nass (R - Whitewater) have publicly called for a legislative session to end the mandate. The Republican-controlled legislature has yet to pass any bills since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March.

UW Health Chief Quality Officer Dr. Jeff Pothof described Wisconsin as the "poster child" of taking a local control approach to COVID-19. He said the results, a record-high amount of more than 500 current hospitalizations this week, is proof the approach isn't working.

"You can look at where Wisconsin's at. We have some of the highest case numbers per capita in the country," Pothof said. "We have hospitals saying that they're getting full. We have an economy that doesn't seem like it's doing all the much better than anyone else is."

Wisconsin is currently 29th in cases per capita according to data compiled by Statista. Pothof referred to rising hospitalizations in the Fox Valley and North Central parts of the state, as well as concerns expressed by the Wisconsin Hospital Association about dwindling bed capacity in those regions.

"If you look at other places that took a different approach, other countries where they had national programs -- much more statewide, (province)-based programs, and you look at their numbers and they have been infinitely more successful," Pothof said.

Stroebel said while the increase in people hospitalized with the virus is cause for concern, he said he was encouraged the increase in people admitted to the ICU hasn't risen at the same rate.

"We've got a state of six million people here and when you look at the numbers that in the hospitals, in the ICU, it's a statistical anomaly right now in terms of the numbers because it's so small," Stroebel said.

Pothof said the increase in hospitalizations alone should alarm policymakers and convince them their attitude toward a statewide policy needs to change.

"We're kind of at our hottest moment, as a state, within our dealings with the COVID-19 pandemic," Pothof said.

Stroebel said he believes there is enough support in the Senate for a bill ending the mask order. He said the only thing holding up a session is Assembly Speaker Robin Vos not indicated if similar support exists in the Assembly.

"I think at the beginning of the second emergency order, there was a definite consensus in the Senate to come back but the Assembly was not willing to, Robin Vos did not want to," Stroebel said. "We haven't caucused since the third emergency order; we're going to be doing that very soon and we'll see what my fellow senators feel about that now," Stroebel said.

Neither Vos nor his office responded to 27 News' questions Friday.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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