Six Council Members Want Tougher Pandemic Rules
Push mayor for indoor mask mandate and mandatory vaccinations for city employees.
Following a surge in COVID-19 cases, a group of Milwaukee Common Council members is pushing for a more proactive approach by Mayor Tom Barrett and Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson to combat the virus.
In a letter submitted Thursday, six council members asked for a plan to potentially restore a citywide, indoor mask mandate and institute a requirement that city workers be vaccinated or receive regular COVID-19 testing.
The city allowed its emergency health order to expire on June 1st, eliminating the associated mask mandate. Barrett has repeatedly said Milwaukee’s approach is to “follow the science.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance Tuesday that even vaccinated people should wear masks in areas where COVID-19 is spreading at “substantial” or “high” rates. More than 46% of U.S. counties fall into that classification, including Milwaukee.
The City of Milwaukee reported a rate of 50.7 cases per 100,000 residents last week, putting the city back into the “substantial” category.
“We certainly have the hope that Milwaukeeans will embrace masks once more,” said Barrett during a media briefing Tuesday, but he also said he did not expect Johnson to use her authority to issue a new mandate.
The six council members are asking Johnson to reinstitute the mandate if the rate again reaches 100 cases per 100,000 residents. “To support this effort legislatively, the Common Council has introduced an ordinance requiring masks indoors should the transmission level stated above be reached. Introducing this file allows us to act swiftly on the matter, should the need arise,” they wrote.
The city’s vaccine rollout remains incredibly uneven. Residents of the 53203 ZIP Code, which encompasses the Westown neighborhood, have a best in the city vaccination rate of 68.8% (at least one shot), while residents of the 53206 ZIP Code have a city-worst vaccination rate of 29.3% according to state data. The citywide rate is 42.3%.
Johnson previously said the city is exploring offering more incentives. But the most popular event in Milwaukee in two years apparently wasn’t much of a draw. A chance to win a pair of tickets to game six of the NBA Finals, selling for more than $1,000 each, in exchange for receiving a vaccine shot yielded only 19 participants.
As of mid-May, the census tract bordered by W. Brown St., W. Vliet St., N. 35th St. and Washington Park has a vaccination rate of only 20.7% (at least one dose), the lowest in the county. Two months later it climbed to 22.4% and is now only the fourth worst. The worst is now a census tract along N. 60th St. just north of W. Silver Spring Dr., 21.3%.
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