Milwaukee Common Council unanimously approves mask mandate

Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic

MILWAUKEE -- The full Milwaukee Common Council voted 15-0 Monday, July 13 to approve Milwaukee's proposed mask mandate ordinance -- passed by the Milwaukee Common Council's Public Safety and Health Committee Thursday, July 9. It now heads to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's desk for his signature.

After the proposal requiring masks for everyone 3 and older inside public places and outside within 6 feet of non-family/household members is signed by the mayor, it then needs to be published before it would take effect.

"If you stay 6 feet apart, you wash your hands and you put on a face covering, we can turn the numbers around and be the healthiest city, not only in the state, but in the country," said Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, who introduced the MKE Cares proposal.

Natasha Jules

More than 80 Milwaukee businesses asked for the mandate, like Jewels Caribbean Restaurant and Bar.

"It's a health issue," said Natasha Jules. "It's, behind just business, it's health. If my customers are dying, what's the point, and me personally, I am been really conscious about COVID-19, catching it, because I have friends in New York that caught it."

The mandate will be enforced not by police, but by the health department, with fines of $50 to $500 targeting businesses -- with later chances to lose licenses or be shut down.

"We don't think that businesses are law enforcement, and it could really create some conflicts between their employees and their customers, create potential civil liability for those job creators, and overall, just put an undue burden on the businesses in Milwaukee," said Nick Novak with Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.


In e-comments shared with the Common Council, 864 supported the mandate, and 587 opposed it.

"If you chose to not protect your employees and your visitors, and you're hosting a business during the pandemic, we will come to talk to you," said Alderwoman Dimitrijevic. "We'll talk to you first. The health department will re-educate you."

The MKE Cares ordinance can be viewed here. It includes a number of exemptions, including for those with certain medical and mental health conditions, when talking to someone who is deaf, when not practical of feasible -- like when eating or drinking and for schools with a mitigation plan approved by the health commissioner.

Alderwoman Dimitrijevic issued this statement after the proposal's approval by the council:

"I want to thank my colleagues for their support of the MKE Cares masking ordinance that was approved today by the full Common Council. Science has shown that masks are an effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19, and the unanimous decision to adopt MKE Cares demonstrates we as elected officials are unified in taking proper action to support the health and safety of our residents.

"I also want to thank the countless businesses, citizens, and other stakeholders who took the time and effort during the last few weeks to make their voices heard on this proposal. The ordinance we adopted reflects your feedback.

"Our work today will save lives and help reopen our economy safely as everyone wears a face covering. Milwaukee residents care about each other and we can turn this around together. Let’s make Milwaukee the healthiest city we can be."

Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa issued this statement:

"Today I voted with my Common Council colleagues in unanimously approving the MKE Cares ordinance, a citywide mandatory masking policy covering indoor public spaces and outdoor public spaces (under certain conditions).

"I believe the MKE Cares ordinance will help us slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and will increase the chances of keeping more Milwaukee adults, children and families from being infected. All residents age three and older will be covered by the ordinance, which I believe will help save lives in our city.

"Today the Council also unanimously approved a measure that will provide a face mask at no charge to every resident of Milwaukee. The details of how free masks will be distributed will be announced soon and I will share that information when it becomes available.

"The support for the MKE Cares ordinance has been overwhelming and includes hundreds of business owners who co-signed a letter of support, more than 12,000 people adding their names to a petition, our local healthcare providers voicing their support for mask wearing, and numerous other health professionals who have acknowledged that masks can help save lives.

"An online system to receive e-comments on the MKE Cares ordinance (via the Public Safety and Health Committee) to date has received 864 comments in support, 587 in opposition and 18 neutral.

"I want to thank the author of the MKE Cares ordinance – my colleague Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic – as well as the rest of my colleagues in giving this important legislation a unanimous vote of approval."

Wisconsin's first countywide mask mandate took effect in Dane County Monday -- requiring masks be worn by everyone ages 5 and up and in every indoor space.

On Friday, July 10, Shorewood became the first local municipality to mandate wearing masks.