'We'll get through this:' Milwaukee mayor in self-quarantine, exposed to person with coronavirus

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he feels fine and his office at City Hall is closed. Now, he's leading Milwaukee from his home, in self-quarantine after learning Thursday, March 19 that he came in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

Barrett said he's "feeling great" and does not have a fever or any other symptoms. He was exposed to the person on Friday, March 13 and will remain in self-quarantine for 14 days following the date of exposure.

"I have not been tested, but I am working from home here and I'm learning a lot about technology that I didn't know before," Barrett said.

The interaction with the person who tested positive happened in the city hall complex, Barrett said -- nothing out of the ordinary. Barrett also said the person is someone who he "works with on a regular basis."

With people in the community worried that they, too, may be exposed to or catch the virus, Barrett's message is straightforward -- stay home if you can.

"My message to people is, if you can, stay home. You are safer at home. Please. We'll get through this," he said. "But we're going to have a lot less tension, a lot less sick people if people stay home. You are safer at home, so we're asking people to please stay home."

Barrett told FOX6 News that his recommendation to stay home is just that -- a recommendation. He will provide an update at a later time as to what he can do to aid the city's response to the pandemic from home and when, if at all, a formal shelter-in-place order may be necessary.

FOX6's Jason Calvi and Barrett sat down -- virtually, of course -- for a Q&A about his situation and the spread of the coronavirus in Milwaukee:

Q: How can you run the city, when you are not at city hall?

A: Technology is amazing. I've had a cabinet meeting, I have had a meeting with our emergency operating command. I've had meetings with our fire chief, police chief. We've had many, many phone meetings and, just like this interview, normally this meeting would take place in city hall, so obviously everyone is acclimating to the new reality, which is so much of this is being done by technology. We're going to get this done, we're going to get through this, so I want people to be calm. It's very, very serious, but, if we act as a community, we're going to get through this, and one of my main messages is: even if you think you're a superman, or think you're a superwoman, you do not want to get somebody else infected with this. So please, please stay safer at home and stay at home.

Q: Any silver lings here? Are you now thinking about having a little extra time to do some of these things which you've done in the past?

A: I'm not used to seeing my wife when I take work breaks. So, she's a teacher, she's working in the kitchen, she's working with her students. I'm here in the living room. One of our daughters is upstairs. so I'm just not used to having these little breaks with my wife here at work and that's very, very nice.

Q: At least one governor has placed a "shelter-in-place" in place, is that something you are considering at the city level?

A: What we are looking at is a safer home initiative because, again, my focus is on safety. That's 100% of what my focus is, is safety. if you are at home, you are going to be safer at home. If we look at something, and we've been in touch with the state, that's what the directive would be. That you stay home because you are safer at home.

Q: Right now, it's just an encouragement, but do you think at some point you might have to take more drastic measures in making an actual order?

A: Yes, because people are safer at home. Again, I want to keep this focus on safety because I think that's really the issue we are talking about here. How can you be safe, personally? How can you make sure that your family members, your neighbors, the people that you run into in the community, how they can be safe? The best way to do it, which runs counter to our nature as human beings, is to isolate ourselves.