Masks should not be a political issue, and Wisconsin will look stupid and backward if Gov. Tony Evers’ mask order issued Thursday ends up being a fight in the Legislature or state Supreme Court.

Before the governor’s announcement Thursday, we were preparing to use this space to encourage him to grow a backbone and issue an order. In our minds, it only makes sense to require masking to help fight the spread of the coronavirus, which as of Thursday was being blamed for 919 Wisconsin deaths among 52,000 confirmed cases.

Evers declared a public health emergency and ordered the wearing of masks for anyone age 5 and older starting Saturday for all enclosed spaces except a person’s home. The new order also applies to outdoor bars and restaurants except when people are eating or drinking.

“This virus doesn’t care about any town, city, or county boundary, and we need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track,” Evers said.

We believe he’s right. The alternative is a confusing patchwork of orders imposed by counties and municipalities.

But somehow the government issuing an order for the public health has become a white-hot political issue.

We are stunned by the results of our unscientific online poll asking if Wisconsin should have a mask mandate. More than 5,000 people responded—4,009 opposed to a mandate and 1,118 in favor as of late Thursday afternoon. That’s about 10 times the number of responses we ever gotten on any other poll.

And the associated Facebook comments are unsettling.

Here is a sample:

“A government mandate on masks, punishable with jail or fines, is the definition of Fascism.”

“This is no worse than the FLU!!!”

“It’s an infringement on my rights. It does more harm than good.”

Government already mandates the wearing of seat belts in cars and clothes in public, and we suspect most people think those are pretty good requirements.

And masks are being required for the good of all.

CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield put it this way: “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus—particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”

But when The Gazette surveyed area legislators, their positions on a mask mandate broke cleanly along party lines—Democrats Don Vruwink, Deb Kolste, Mark Spreitzer and Janis Ringhand were in favor, and Republicans Amy Loudenbeck, Tyler August and Steve Nass were opposed.

After Evers issued his order Thursday, Nass issued a statement urging the Legislature to convene and end the governor’s emergency declaration.

“Governor Evers actions today are nothing more than a political stunt to create a partisan fight with the Legislature,” Nass wrote. “This is not about improving public health.”

Evers responded that Republicans saying they don’t believe in science is risky political business and risky health business.

We don’t want to see Wisconsin taking either risk.