Since March 2020, Wisconsin's local public health officials have issued public health orders aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
These measures included requiring face coverings, limiting, or forbidding gatherings, requiring sanitation protocols for particular facilities, limiting, or forbidding certain sport activities, limiting businesses' allowable indoor capacity, and requiring physical distancing between individuals. They did so pursuant to their authority under state law that directs local health officers to “promptly take all measures necessary to prevent, suppress and control communicable diseases”.
In January 2021, two residents of the Dane County (Wisconsin) filed suit against a set of public health officials’ orders, arguing that the local health department did not have legal authority to issue the orders at hands. By decision of 8 July 2022, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin upheld Dane County's COVID-19 restrictions, finding that: first, the constitution allows grants of broad public health authority to local governments substantively similar to that delineated in the legislation of Wisconsin; and second, state law provides several strong procedural safeguards to prevent health officers from having too much discretion. Namely, a local health officer's discretion is subject to both state and local controls: on the one hand, the state legislature may curb exercises of granted power it deems excessive by amending the statute or repealing the statute entirely; on the other, the Health Board can exert its supervisory and policy-making control over the local health officer and elected officials in both the county and the city possess the power to remove the local health officer.