Milwaukee mask mandate ends too soon, some alders say

Too soon? Some Milwaukee Common Council members say the city isn't ready to get rid of its mask ordinance.  On Tuesday, May 18, the mayor and health commissioner announced all COVID restrictions would be expiring on June 1. Some council members say the public should have been able to weigh in before officials made their decision.  

That decision to end the mask ordinance follows new CDC guidance saying that people who are vaccinated no longer need to wear masks due to the vaccine's effectiveness, but with 60% of Milwaukee residents still are not vaccinated, some council members say the city acted too hastily and fear the decision could undo the progress that has been made.  

Common Council President Cavalier Johnson and Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic are calling for a special meeting of the Public Safety and Health Committee to discuss the end of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions.  

"I think we need to tread carefully and cautiously and at the very least have a conversation," said Dimitrijevic.

Dimitrijevic says council members were not consulted ahead of the mayor’s and health commissioner’s decision to let the mask ordinance expire at the end of May. She said it’s too soon, given that only 40% of residents are vaccinated.  

"As a mother of very young children that cannot yet be vaccinated, it’s frightening," she said.

Mayor Tom Barrett said representatives from the Milwaukee Health Department will be at the special meeting to address concerns.  

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"I think this is part of the dialogue we do need to have. At what point do you make the change?" he said.

The mayor said the decision to rescind the health order was about consistency.  

"We followed the science," he said. "We followed the CDC every point along the way. We’re going to continue to do that now."

But the national data, Dimitrijevic says, doesn’t take into account Milwaukee's unique social and economic factors and could result in COVID-19 cases once again increasing.  

"What are our plans? We’re the biggest city in the state of Wisconsin, and so I have many, many questions," she said. "I wish there was a metric tied to our vaccination rate. I don’t think it’s good to compare us to other communities that are doing this."

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Individual business owners, owners of event spaces and school leaders in Milwaukee can still implement their own masking policies beyond June 1.

City and county leaders are continuing to expanding outreach efforts to improve the vaccination rate.

The special meeting on the topic is scheduled for Wednesday, May 26 at 9 a.m.