Mask Mandate Passes Committee
Proposal would require masks indoors and outdoors, but with limited enforcement.
A proposed mask mandate for the City of Milwaukee survived its first vote on Thursday.
The Common Council’s Public Safety & Health Committee spent approximately two hours reviewing the proposed ordinance, spending most of its time debating the outdoor requirements.
“The science is clear that face coverings make a difference,” said Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, the proposal’s lead sponsor. She noted that as the meeting had started the state just reported the highest single-day case increase. “We have just a small amount of time here, we are not doing great, but other places are doing worse.”
The indoor mask requirement would apply to all businesses and buildings “open to the public.” The standard is defined as “any structure or premises licensed by the city of Milwaukee or used in whole or in part as a place of resort, assemblage, lodging, trade, traffic, occupancy, or other use by the public.” It would include gyms, bars, restaurants, stores and many other businesses.
But the city’s definition of what constitutes an indoor business has been interpreted to include outdoor patios of licensed businesses, including bars and restaurants. Alderman Scott Spiker, citing an example of a gym with outdoor classes, attempted to reverse that requirement and introduced an amendment that would have allowed masks not to be worn if individuals outdoors at a licensed business maintained six feet of spacing. “I call it the patio proviso,” he said.
“I do have concerns about that,” said Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik. She said it was important to be consistent in messaging. “I also look at it as a way to protect the workers.”
“That is a good point about the employees,” said Spiker. “However, we are not talking about what we should do, but what the city should mandate.”
Dimitrijevic said consistency needs to be the message.
“I would rather err on the side of more caution than less,” said Kowalik.
Borkowski strongly opposes the outdoor requirement and said Kowalik and others have not offered a clear explanation of why it’s necessary or enforceable.
“The outdoors piece is the one that makes absolutely no sense, it’s illogical, we are kidding ourselves,” he said.
“Honestly Dr. Kowalik, I don’t think you appreciate those of us that have districts that are literally across the street from other municipalities,” he said. His southwest side district has an irregular shape and borders a number of suburbs that don’t have mask requirements.
Borkowski asked Kowalik why she couldn’t issue a countywide order, but Kowalik said with the countywide order removed her authority to issue such an order has been removed. Furthermore, if she did, she said a local health officer could overrule it. The Village of Shorewood adopted a mask mandate Wednesday night.
The alderman said he would be flexible on the indoor component if the outdoor requirement was dropped.
“I don’t want to delete the section about the outdoors because I don’t want people to think going outdoors is safe,” said Dimitrijevic. “Indoors we know is another ballgame.”
“I know there will be customers that walk away and say ‘not here’,” said Spiker. “If you think having to wear a mask is going to drive away your customers, imagine what happens if you have a COVID outbreak.”
Penalties would come first as a warning first, then as a fine of up $500, which would only apply to building or business owners. Enforcement would be assigned to the Milwaukee Health Department, though the Milwaukee Police Department could issue citations. “The police department, I’m sure, is not going to be looking for more work in this regard,” said Spiker.
A special Common Council meeting, originally posted for for the 14th, has been scheduled for July 13th at 1:30 p.m. to review the proposed ordinance.
The proposal has six sponsors Dimitirjevic, JoCasta Zamarripa, Cavalier Johnson, Nik Kovac, Ashanti Hamilton and Nikiya Dodd. Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs is not a member of the committee, nor a sponsor, but appeared at the meeting and spoke in favor of the proposal.
The only explicit exceptions in the proposal are for individuals under the age of three, individuals who have upper-respiratory chronic conditions or silent disabilities, individuals communicating with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, individuals exempted under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance due to a medical condition, mental health condition, development disability or other Americans with Disabilities Act provisions, individuals in settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear face coverings, when a law prohibits it to confirm an individuals identity, individuals obtaining or rendering goods or services including dental services, medical treatments or eating and drinking and individuals whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering.
A separate proposal to distribute free masks to at least 300,000 Milwaukee residents was unanimously endorsed. The effort would be funded by donations and the city’s federal CARES Act funding allocation.
Kowalik said the health department was still planning how to give the masks away, but was considering using city buildings and other distribution points. Council members pushed to use small businesses to supply the cloth masks.
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