Proposal released: More than 12K sign petition with council set to debate Milwaukee mask mandate

MILWAUKEE -- A vote could come Wednesday, July 8, as the Milwaukee Common Council Public Safety and Health Committee again debates a proposed ordinance that would mandate masks in Milwaukee amid COVID-19. Ahead of that meeting, Milwaukee Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, who introduced the proposal, said a petition to require masks in Milwaukee has garnered more than 12,000 signatures.

A breakdown of the proposed ordinance is below:

1. Indoors: Would require face covering for those 2 and older when inside public places

2. Outdoors: Would mandate in outdoor public space when you see person within 30 feet who is not a member of household/family


1. Kids under 2

2. Those who fall under CDC guidance not to wear a mask due to medical or mental health condition

3. People with upper-respiratory conditions

4. When not practical, like when receiving dental services


Enforced by health department

1. Warning

2. Fine from $50-500

3. Repeat offenders could be shut down by health department

Dimitrijevic released this statement Monday, July 6:

"During the last week as we have worked to craft the MKE Cares ordinance – a citywide masking policy – the amount of outreach and civic engagement during the process has been inspiring. I want to thank each and every citizen who has taken the time to make their voice heard in the interest of making our community a safer, healthier place. The time to act is now, we cannot stand by while new cases soar, school reopening discussions are taking place, and people continue to die. We won’t look back and regret this science supported action to protect our loved ones, but we will regret it if we do not act. MKE Cares is built on compliance. We want you to do your part to help keep everyone safe.

"The support for MKE Cares has been overwhelming as those calling for a citywide policy include 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 the countless other health professionals acknowledging that masks can help save lives.

"With all of this in mind we crafted the draft MKE Cares ordinance that blends several best practices from policies instituted in places such as New York, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

"In my view this is an important moment for city government to do what is needed to protect the health and safety of our citizens, of essential workers, and the entire community. I look forward to the robust discussion that will take place around this ordinance in the coming days."


    In late June, business owners wrote a letter to Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, calling on them to require that masks be worn by patrons and workers in public spaces including stores, theaters, museums, restaurants and bars (while not consuming food or beverages).

    The committee had plenty of questions when the proposed ordinance was debated July 2.

    Alderman Mark Borkowski

    "Maybe it's just going to be a BAND-AID," said Alderman Mark Borkowski. "Maybe it's going to sound good. Maybe it's going to make us all feel better, but let's be honest about it."

    Dimitrijevic said the most severe punishments would be for repeat offender businesses. She said the Milwaukee Health Department would enforce it -- not the police.

    "I have some trepidation about how we're moving forward, considering that the fine is $500, and you haven't been provided a mask," said Alderman Khalif Rainey.

    Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik

    "Businesses are licensed in the city, so we have the ability to either continue to support their business, or revoke it if there's a continued non-compliance," said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik.

    Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett compared a possible mandate to this: "Many businesses have a no shirt, no shoes no service type of mandate to them -- and as we develop something, that's similar to what we're talking here."

    In e-comments shared with the committee, 203 said they support a mask mandate, while 145 oppose it.

    "When are we going to say to people, 'You know what, okay, you're selfish, but you're also intelligent,'" said Alderman Borkowski. "'This is your choice.'"

    "We have to develop a culture where it's seen as a cool thing, or a responsible thing, or a thing you are proud of," said Alderman Scott Spiker.

    For now, city and state leaders are promoting mask-wearing -- something the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends when people are in public with people with whom they do not live -- when normal social distancing measures cannot be practiced. A study in Health Affairs found masks mandates cut COVID-19 rates by 2% after three weeks -- stopping an estimated hundreds of thousands of possible infections.