Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Milwaukee Adopts Mask Mandate

Council unanimously adopts indoor and outdoor mandate. Goes into effect Thursday.

By - Jul 13th, 2020 02:47 pm
Workers wearing face masks. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

Workers wearing face masks. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

People in Milwaukee will now be required to wear masks in public.

The Common Council unanimously adopted a mask mandate on Monday during a special meeting.

The measure enacts an indoor mandate for public buildings with an enforcement component for businesses and building owners and a self-enforced outdoor mandate for people within six feet of non-household members.

“It is absolutely clear that wearing face coverings when outside of your house combined with hand washing… is the biggest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic in introducing her proposal to the full council on Monday. The council had two committee meetings to discuss the concept.

Mayor Tom Barrett told Urban Milwaukee Monday morning he would sign the legislation and could do so as early as today. “It’s not one that I’ll sit on for 10 days,” he said of the proposal.

When would it go into effect? City Clerk Jim Owczarski told Urban Milwaukee before the vote that he expected the ordinance would not be in force until Saturday because of publication timing issues with the Daily Reporter, the city’s paper of record. After publication, Owczarski informed Urban Milwaukee that the date had been advanced to Wednesday, with the ordinance going into effect Thursday.

The indoor mask requirement applies 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 previously sought to amend the proposal to exempt patios from the indoor requirement, but his amendment was defeated at committee. He did not introduce it before the full council.

Penalties would come 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.

Wisconsin joins Dane County and the Village of Shorewood in enacting a mask mandate. Prior to Dimitrijevic introducing the proposal the state was one of just four in the country in which no city or statewide mandate existed.

The proposal picked up a vote from its biggest critic on Monday. “I am not going to be a no vote. I am not going to dissent on this. This is too important for our city. I am pretty certain this is going to be unanimous and I am going to be part of that,” said Alderman Mark Borkowski. “For me it was never about indoors, I think that makes all the sense in the world, the outdoor piece is troubling.”

The southwest side council member had previously expressed concern that the outdoor proposal was unenforceable and that the indoor provision was confusing when adjacent municipalities didn’t have one. He told the council he received a lot of outreach, calls, emails and text messages, since voting against the ordinance at committee on Friday.

He did have one request though. Borkowski said that Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik needed to identify a point person for all issues that arise with the mandate. “I don’t think it’s possible to come up with every single scenario that we think is going to happen,” he said. That found support from multiple council members.

Kowalik’s department has also been tasked with distributing at least 300,000 masks to Milwaukee residents. Dimitrijevic said details were still forthcoming on how that would be handled, but the police department, Milwaukee Fire Department, Milwaukee Public Library and Department of Neighborhood Services would be involved in distribution.

Alderwoman Chantia Lewis pushed for an inclusive marketing campaign on the mandate and where to get masks. She said it was essential that literature includes instructions not to call 911, but to instead call the health department (414-286-3521) to report non-compliance.

Council members thanked Dimtrijevic for leading the effort. “This is uncomfortable, and sometimes we just have to make decisions that benefit everybody, even if it makes some folks uncomfortable,” said Ald. Ashanti Hamilton.

The city, through its ecomment function, received 1,510 responses for which an address was provided according to a city report. Approximately 57 percent were in favor.

“Of course this legislation is not perfect,” said Ald. Milele A. Coggs of the difficulty in crafting a policy that would serve everyone.

“We could regret that we didn’t do enough, but I doubt we would ever look back and regret that we made everyone wear face coverings,” said Dimitrijevic. “We are at this unique moment in time where I don’t think we can wait any longer.”

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, developmental 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.

The mandate would be in place as long as the city maintains its Moving Milwaukee Forward health order.

A full text of the proposed ordinance can be found in the city’s online Legislative Reference Center.

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Categories: Health

2 thoughts on “City Hall: Milwaukee Adopts Mask Mandate”

  1. steenwyr says:

    “individuals whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering.” Well, that just gave everyone an excuse.

  2. frank a schneiger says:

    A few thoughts from a Milwaukee native living in New York City. By most measures, New York City is the national success story in flattening the curve. Yesterday, for the first time in more than 4 months, we had zero deaths. But, there have been a lot of deaths and serious illnesses before we got to where we are. New York has gotten to this point through a lot of sacrificing and economic and social pain, but especially by focusing on the simple basics: masks, social distancing and hand washing. And now, a program of robust contact tracing.

    Getting compliance is the interesting and challenging part in any city, but especially in a city with people as diverse, contrary and oppositional as New Yorkers are. The key thing was making mask wearing and social distancing signs of social solidarity, a message communicated through all kinds of groups. And repeating the theme that “we’re all in this together,” even at a time when it was clear that everyone wasn’t in “this” together. Wearing a mask became “the right thing to do,” even among groups like young people and grouchy old people who don’t like to be told what to do. Respected community, leaders as well as political leaders, play a critical role in communicating that message. Because they are trusted, the role of community leaders is the most important.

    This may be a little tougher in Milwaukee because in New York City, there were very few people who politicized mask wearing and saw it as denying people their “freedom.” It was very clear from an early stage that wearing a mask was to protect others as much as yourself, and there was a message that not wearing one was a sign of selfishness. Being a non-mask wearing outlier was not seen in a positive light, a political statement, or a sign of some kind of individualism.

    In the saddest sense, what made delivering these messages essier was the fact that almost everyone in New York City now knows someone who has died from or become very sick with Covid-19. Everyone should want to avoid or minimize that motivator to do the right thing

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