Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Don’t Call 911 On City Mask Mandate

Emphasis on voluntary compliance. "We don't want a bunch of Karens making complaints."

By - Jul 14th, 2020 05:26 pm
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik at the mask mandate signing ceremony. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik at the mask mandate signing ceremony. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

City officials are aiming for Milwaukee’s mask mandate to be one of voluntary compliance and education.

“If we see issues, the first thing we do is educate,” said Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik of her department’s strategy for enforcing the city’s COVID-19 health orders. “Then we advance into progressive levels of discipline.” She said the Milwaukee Health Department will take the same approach to the mask mandate.

Mayor Tom Barrett signed the ordinance into law on Tuesday afternoon in front of Goodkind restaurant at 2457 S. Wentworth Ave. in Bay View. The business was one of over 100 in the city to call for the mask requirement. “There are a lot of days I relish signing an ordinance into law, this is not one of them,” said Barrett.

The mandate, which will go into effect Thursday, requires masks to be worn indoors at public buildings and outdoors when individuals are within six feet of another individual who isn’t a household member. Enforcement for the indoor component falls to businesses and building owners, who can be fined and face license revocation for repeat non-compliance, while the outdoor mandate carries no enforcement mechanism.

“We don’t want a bunch of Karens making complaints,” said Kowalik, referencing the social media pejorative for a person, often a white woman, acting entitled in public and threatening to call an authority figure. “If someone isn’t wearing a mask we aren’t encouraging people to call 911 or 211. We don’t want people being isolated. We don’t know if they have a silent illness, or a disability, or a mental health condition where they can’t wear a mask.”

Kowalik said the focus will be on operators. Individuals with concerns about an operator can call the health department at 414-286-3521 or email

“We are working on providing some tools and resources to business owners related to sectors on how they can enforce this,” said Kowalik. “We are trying to do this in a way that is compassionate and meets the needs of people who might not have masks.”

“This in no way is intended to a punitive or criminal type of sanction. It’s an education sanction,” said Barrett. “We believe the best way to do it is through the businesses.” Businesses could have licenses revoked for non-compliance. Enforcement is vested with the health department, not the Milwaukee Police Department, a choice Barrett said was deliberate for reasons of equity.

“We need to talk about it, we need to be open about it, we might struggle,” said Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, the mandate’s lead sponsor. “We are all in this together.”

“We shouldn’t be shaming someone when we don’t know their situation,” said Kowalik. But she added that masks will be the new normal as long as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

The mandate isn’t the only piece of legislation Barrett signed. He also signed a resolution that requires the health department to distribute at least 300,000 masks for free to Milwaukee residents.

Mike Kryshak, CEO of Rebel Converting, said at the signing that his company was poised to donate one million masks to the city, building on earlier distribution of three million cloth masks. He said he was pleased the city was enacting the mandate.When “people don’t wear them,” he said, “it doesn’t do us any good.”

Kowalik said additional details on the distribution program would be forthcoming, but the city’s health centers already have masks for the public.

The Common Council unanimously adopted the mask mandate on Monday.

The legislation signing was unlike any other in city history. All of the speakers wore masks, even while speaking. Barrett signed the legislation with multiple pens, as is standard to create a keepsake, but had to wipe each pen down after using it.


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Categories: Health

2 thoughts on “City Hall: Don’t Call 911 On City Mask Mandate”

  1. Maddiem says:

    Congratulations City of Milwaukee for becoming “Milwaukee Tough” ! Wearing a mask indoors, and outdoors as needed, isn’t hard to do, and protects us all.

  2. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Kowalik should apologize to all women named Karen for her perpetuating the stereotype of white women in the U.S.A today who care about social issues as ignorant and entitled. I have been blessed by the company of many Karens who are neither ignorant nor entitled. The Karens I know are caring people. They do not deserve idiotic derision.

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