New mask, vaccine mandates? Milwaukee leaders ponder both

Six Milwaukee Common Council members asked the health commissioner and mayor to consider requiring city workers get vaccinated or do regular COVID-19 testing.

Members Marina Dimitrijevic, Cavalier Johnson, Nik Kovac, Nikiya Dodd, JoCasta Zamarripa, and Jose Perez also asked for a return to the city's indoor mask mandate if the rates someday get to 100 new cases a week per 100,000 people. In addition, Alderwoman Dimitrijevic introduced legislation that would do that. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended this week that fully vaccinated people wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission. That means places with 50 or more new cases a week per 100,000 people. The map below highlights substantial transmission in the lighter color, which includes Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Racine counties, areas with at least 50 new cases a week per 100,000 people. High transmission, in the three darker highlighted Wisconsin counties, saw transmission rates of 100 or more a week per 100,000 people.

"I haven’t been wearing a mask as much, anymore, either, but in hearing more about the delta variant, and an uptick in cases, I feel like I’d rather move to this, an extra baby step, to continue to protect us and to alleviate any future kind of shutdown of businesses and the like," said Milwaukee Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa, one of the Common Council members pressing for the possibility of a new mandate. 

"We are thinking about potentially how we could legislatively do that through the council, but also thinking about other sort of mitigation measures or steps we could take before actually getting to a mandate," Kirsten Johnson, Milwaukee Commissioner of Health told FOX6.

For now, Johnson echoes the CDC with a mask-up recommendation. Milwaukee's mask mandate expired in June, though it has continued to require masks indoor city buildings.

The mayor says right now the emphasis is on educating people about the value of wearing the mask indoors. He reflected on the old mandate as he worried about a new version.

"We’ve had a challenge, quite honestly, with the enforcement aspect of it, because there are people who are in denial, there are other people who refuse to do it, and there’s a resource issue about how we would enforce it. Do I think it’s the right thing to do? Absolutely, yes," Mayor Barrett told FOX6.

Milwaukee City Hall

The six Common Council members are also urging that city workers be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine – or face regular COVID-19 tests, if they don't. It follows a practice implemented in New York City and California.

"We do want to look at setting the example for other employers and workers by asking city workers to get vaccinated or make sure if they’re not, they’re going to have to go into weekly testing," said Zamarripa. "We have to do everything we can to protect our city, to protect our community."

"I could see that coming. And again, we’re in those conversations right now to see how that would work and how we could do that. So that is something that we are definitely exploring," Barrett said.

In the same letter, the six Common Council members also urge the city to offer cash rewards to encourage people to get vaccinated. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says more than 98% of COVID-19 cases since January have been in those not fully vaccinated. 

In light of the new CDC guidance, since mirrored by the state, other local governments are considering their own mask requirements. On Thursday, July 29, the city of Racine will once again require masks in city-owned building. The requirement will also apply to those playing sports inside city-owned community centers.

"This is to deter the potential spread of the highly infectious Delta variant strain of the virus. Due to the recent increase in the number of COVID-19 positive cases, the CDC has placed the City of Racine in the ‘Substantial Transmission Category’ defined by case rate over the last seven days. Currently, the City’s COVID-19 case rate is 73 per 100,000, which is a 900% increase over the last two weeks," Dottie-Kay Bowersox, the City of Racine Public Health Administrator, wrote in a statement. 

FREE DOWNLOAD: Get breaking news alerts in the FOX6 News app for iOS or Android.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) said more than 98% of COVID cases since January have been in those not fully vaccinated. 

Starting Thursday, July 29, the City of Racine will require everyone to mask up in any city-owned building. It also includes city workers indoors, city workers traveling in city vehicles with more than one passenger, and people playing sports inside city-owned community centers.

Marquette president COVID positive, had 'mild cold-like symptoms'

Marquette University President Michael Lovell tweeted on Tuesday evening, July 27 that he tested COVID positive.

Next Door hosting COVID vaccination clinics

Next Door is hosting COVID-19 vaccination clinics in July and August in partnership with Hayat Pharmacy and Medical College of Wisconsin.