Milwaukee leaders say mask mandate could move city to next steps of phased reopening more quickly

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has issued a statewide mask order amid a spike in coronavirus cases in the state, setting up a conflict with Republican legislative leaders who oppose such a requirement and successfully sued earlier to kill his “Safer at Home” order.

The Democratic governor on Thursday ordered the wearing of masks starting Saturday, Aug. 1.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court in May tossed out an order from Evers’ health secretary closing most nonessential businesses. Republicans brought that lawsuit. The state Assembly's Republican speaker, Robin Vos, says he expects the mask order to face a legal challenge from “citizen groups."

Milwaukee County officials say the mask mandate is welcome to help stop the spread, with Milwaukee County still the hardest hit by COVID. Leaders say the requirement could even help expedite the process of reopening Milwaukee.

The statewide mask mandate will require many communities in Milwaukee County to mask up, when they were not mandated before -- a welcome change according to County Executive David Crowley. 

"Here in Milwaukee, I think it will definitely help," he said Thursday. "I think it's going to help, again, minimize the spread of COVID-19."

Already there is a stricter mandate in place in the City of Milwaukee, where Mayor Tom Barrett says compliance in the suburbs could help to speed up the reopening process in the city by slowing the spread. 

"If people are working with us, and if they're doing what they can to help us reduce the spread of the disease, that's what's going to be more powerful than anything," said Mayor Barrett.

The city has been in Phase 4 of the "Moving Milwaukee Forward" plan since the end of June -- planning to move into Phase 4.1 soon. Health officials are planning to release details on the plan Friday, July 31, which they say will partly address the local mask mandate and safety plans for schools. 

"We're just putting the final touches on it, but we don't want to open the present until we get there," said Mayor Barrett.

Mayor Barrett said before more drastic steps can be taken toward reopening, there still needs to be more PPE at most hospitals, and health officials say they will need a better grasp on contact tracing.

Milwaukee already has a mask mandate, but County Executive David Crowley said many communities in the county have not had mask mandates -- welcoming the statewide requirement.

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