JVG_210401_MASKS

A man wears a mask as he walks past an American flag mural in downtown Janesville.

Rock County residents must continue wearing masks when they leave home despite a Wednesday state Supreme Court ruling that shot down a similar state order.

A Feb. 4 order from the Rock County Public Health Department mandates face coverings for everyone age 5 and older when indoors in public or in enclosed spaces with people from outside their own households.

That mandate is active until May 5 regardless of the state’s mandate, which the court struck down Wednesday.

“We are continuing to stand by our mask mandate because we feel that it is still a very important part of controlling the spread of the virus in Rock County,” Jessica Turner, public health communications specialist, said in an email to The Gazette.

The 4-3 ruling from the conservative-controlled court is the latest legal blow to Gov. Tony Evers’ attempts to control the coronavirus. It comes after Republicans in the Legislature repealed the mask mandate in February, only to see Evers quickly reissue it, The Associated Press reported.

The court ruled any public health emergency issued by Evers is valid for just 60 days and can’t be extended without legislative approval.

“The question in this case is not whether the governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully. We conclude he did not,” Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote for the majority.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, a member of the court’s three-justice minority, lamented in a dissent that the ruling hampers the ability of Wisconsin governors to protect lives.

Rock County health officials have been persistent in encouraging people to continue wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds to prevent another surge of coronavirus cases.

COVID-19 vaccines have helped slow the spread of the disease, but the chance of infection and serious illness is a reality for those who are not vaccinated, health officials have said.

Officials nationwide have warned against relaxing safety guidelines too soon because many more people could die before the country reaches herd immunity.

“It is still very important for everyone to continue to wear masks in public, even after being vaccinated,” Turner said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who have been fully vaccinated, meaning two weeks have passed since they received two shots of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one shot of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, can be around other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks.

But vaccinated people should continue to wear masks when around unvaccinated people because there is not enough research yet to know if vaccinated people could spread the virus to unvaccinated people.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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