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Chris Kapenga said during an Oct. 11, 2020 interview on WKOW’s “Capital City Sunday” show that the effectiveness of masks was disproven in May in Wisconsin when a mask order was struck down
But Gov. Tony Evers did not issue a mask mandate until July 30, 2020.
It went into effect Aug. 1
Masks have become the center of political debate in Wisconsin, with Republican lawmakers going after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ mask order in court.
While some GOP lawmakers acknowledge mask-wearing can help in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, they have generally opposed any mandate for them.
That includes state Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), who in an Oct. 11, 2020, appearance on WKOW’s Capital City Sunday show offered this argument:
"According to what the governor is saying, logic would tell us, if we are wearing masks, we should see a reduction in cases if we went into, you know, from no masks to a mask. Or, if we went from a mask mandate to no masks, the governor’s logic would mean that we should see a significant decrease in cases.
"Well, we’ve actually had that test take place, because back in May, the Legislature did not implement the mask mandate after it went away. And if you look at the numbers, we went from masks, to no masks, and there’s no significant difference in cases."
We’ve looked at the science behind mask wearing, rating False a claim from a GOP Assembly member that wearing masks had been "proven ineffective."
But in this case, it’s less a science question than a history lesson.
Is Kapenga right that in May "we went from masks, to no masks, and there (was) no significant difference in cases"?
In a word: No.
When asked for backup for the claim, Kapenga’s office said the senator was referring to the natural experiment that took place when the state was placed under lockdown and what happened once Evers’ stay-at-home order was lifted.
But that stay-at-home order, which began in March and ran until blocked by the Supreme Court in May, did not include a mask mandate.
The governor’s mask mandate did not begin until Aug. 1, and remains in effect. Indeed, it’s the very thing Republicans are in court fighting now.
On Oct. 12, 2020, St. Croix County Circuit Judge R. Michael Waterman denied a motion to suspend the mask mandate. That measure has been appealed.
While we are looking here at the timeline claimed by Kapenga, it’s worth a brief look at his broader argument -- that, if the mandate were successful, it should have resulted in sudden and dramatically lower case counts.
"In the roughly ten and a half weeks since the first mask mandate was enacted, the average daily positive test rate and the daily positive case rate have risen faster than when the state had no mandate or lockdowns," Kapenga said in the email to PolitiFact Wisconsin.
But that suggests that the mask mandate is being strictly followed, when in many parts of the state it is being largely ignored -- including at campaign rallies for Trump.
And it ignores the fact that case counts have stayed lower in Milwaukee County, where the City of Milwaukee instituted a mask ordinance weeks earlier. And that in other states, a drop in cases did follow the institution of mask orders.
Kapenga claimed that in May, Wisconsin effectively had a test of mask effectiveness when "we went from masks, to no masks, and there (was) no significant difference in cases."
But Kapenga has his orders and lawsuits wrong. What was lifted in May, under a Republican lawsuit that went to the state Supreme Court, was Evers’ stay-at-home order.
The governor’s mask mandate did not begin until Aug. 1, and remains in effect.
We rate this claim False.
PolitiFact, "Wisconsin GOP lawmaker wrong that masks have been ‘proven ineffective’ against COVID-19", July 30, 2020
Wisconsin.gov, "Gov. Evers Declares Public Health Emergency Due to COVID-19," March 12, 2020
Wisconsin.gov, "Gov. Evers Directs DHS to Issue Safer at Home Order," March 24, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tony Evers closes schools for the year, extends order to stay at home until May 26," April 6, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin Supreme Court strikes down Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order that closed businesses to limit spread of coronavirus," May 13, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tony Evers issues a statewide mandate to wear masks indoors through the end of September," July 30, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Judge denies GOP effort to end Tony Evers’ mask mandate, upholding governor’s ability to issue health orders," Oct. 12, 2020
Email conversation with Sen. Kapenga’s office, Oct. 12, 2020
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