Milwaukee indoor mask mandate discussed as omicron spreads

An indoor mask mandate is one step closer to reality in the city of Milwaukee after the Common Council's Public Safety and Health Committee held a special hearing Friday morning, Jan. 7.

Enough committee members passed an ordinance to require masks in certain indoor environments. Members said one of the best ways to reduce the spread of the omicron COVID-19 variant is to wear – and require – masks.

This week, the Milwaukee Health Department said the city experienced the highest number of COVID-19 tests taken and the highest positivity rates since the pandemic started.

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"We want every Milwaukeean to have every tool possible against this nasty virus," Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic said.

To do that, some members of the Public Safety and Health Committee said an indoor mask ordinance is necessary to keep people safe.

Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee City Hall

"What this mask ordinance does is simply tell folks here in the city of Milwaukee, if you’re going to enter a building that’s open to the public, we want you to have a mask on to protect yourself, protect other patrons," said Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa.

Part of the ordinance and what it entails was explained by Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson.

"The sort of metric that would turn it on and then subsequently turn it off is if we are in a upward trajectory, for 14 days and into the high category, so 100 cases per 100,000 would turn it on and then it would turn off as we start to decline. So the trajectory starts to decrease and that we would… after we cross that 150 threshold it would be turned off," she said. 

During the discussion, questions arose about how to enforce masks inside places like restaurants.

"We know what’s easier for business owners is when they put up that sign that it’s required by the government rather than a personal preference, and that is the best way to seek compliance and stop the spread of disease," Dimitrijevic said.

"It’s not about punishing folks. It’s about educating us and the general public and our constituency on how beneficial a mask can be," said Zamarripa.

Not everyone agreed with the ordinance. An email sent to the committee and read by Alderman Mark Borkowski said: "With none of the suburbs having such an ordinance, this will also be unnecessarily harmful to Milwaukee businesses, especially restaurants. I urge this committee oppose this ordnance. It is unenforceable anyway."

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Health commissioner Johnson said the health department lacks the resources to enforce a mandate because it is too busy at testing and vaccination sites.

The Common Council would have to pass the mask ordinance before it goes into effect. The Common Council's next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 18.


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