Jeramey Jannene

The Battle For New City Mask Mandate

As COVID-19 cases surge, teachers union and 11 other groups demand restored mandate, which many businesses oppose.

By - Sep 29th, 2021 12:45 pm
Workers wearing face masks. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

Workers wearing face masks. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

A broad coalition of community groups is calling for Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson to restore Milwaukee’s mask mandate.

In a joint statement, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA), Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC), Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES), Parents for Public Schools of Milwaukee, Schools and Communities United, Wisconsin Working Families Party, Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, Voces de la Frontera, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals call on Barrett and Johnson to immediately issue a new health order and reinstate the city’s indoor masking requirement.

“This action is long past due with COVID-19 numbers steadily above extreme transmission levels in our city and around the state. The safety of our communities and our children is paramount, and you must take every action possible to reign in the current surge of COVID-19 infections due to the Delta variant,” they wrote.

The citywide mask mandate expired alongside Milwaukee’s health order on June 1. At the time, new cases of the disease were falling and the vaccination rate was expected to steadily expand. Instead, the case burden has spiked.

On July 9 there had been 9.8 new cases per 100,000 residents in the prior week, by Aug. 12 it was up to 230.1 cases. As of Tuesday, it hit 323.1 cases per 100,000 residents, a level not seen since January. Hospitalizations, a lagging indicator, are on an upward trend as well, matching a level last seen in February.

The number of cases in children is a key driver in the spike according to a Milwaukee County epidemiological report. Since late July the percentage of new cases occurring in children younger than 12 years old has grown from 20% to 33%.

“While we must all work to continue vaccination efforts, universal indoor masking and physical distancing are proven methods to control spread. COVID-19 infections are affecting children at much higher rates than ever before and children under 12 still cannot be vaccinated. Poor and working-class communities are much harder hit by the current surge and historic inequities have been highlighted throughout this pandemic,” wrote the co-signers.

On Aug. 5, MTEA submitted a letter to Johnson calling for not just a Milwaukee Public Schools mask mandate, but one for all schools in the city. The union also asked for enforceable metrics on when schools should be closed because of outbreaks. A letter in opposition to any new citywide mandates was submitted Aug. 11 by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and co-signed by a number of private schools and businesses. Johnson, in her Aug. 11 response to MTEA, said she was working with MPS, but didn’t address a requirement for all schools.

On Aug. 12 a health department spokesperson said the department was monitoring the situation, but was encouraged by a week-over-week downward trend in cases. Since that point, the case burden has grown 40%. A number of employers, including the city, county and MPS, have since adopted vaccination requirements for employees. MPS has a self-imposed mask requirement for everyone in its buildings.

“Inaction by our City’s government is unacceptable, especially in light of this disproportionate impact,” wrote the co-signers of the new statement. “This city’s government does not exist simply to respond to the demands of the business lobby and the wealthy.”

Johnson, in response to a request for comment by Urban Milwaukee, focused on vaccination.

“We are experiencing a pandemic of the unvaccinated. While breakthrough cases of vaccinated individuals can still occur, we know the COVID-19 vaccine provides effective protection against spreading the virus, as well as serious illness, hospitalization, and death,” she said in a statement. “It’s time for the community to come together and encourage all residents 12 years of age and older to receive their vaccine.” The commissioner said the best way to keep students safe is to make sure that those around them are vaccinated.

“Universal masking is one layer of protection, and the Milwaukee Health Department is supportive of all schools, including MPS, who implemented masking requirements. We continue to strongly advise all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask when in public, indoor spaces as a mitigation measure,” she added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people, including those already vaccinated, wear masks indoors in communities where the disease is spreading at a “substantial” or “high” rate. Milwaukee not only meets that threshold, but exceeds it.

More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

Read more about Coronavirus Pandemic here

Categories: Business, Health, Weekly

3 thoughts on “The Battle For New City Mask Mandate”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    The number of COVID-19 cases has been skyrocketing ever since the mask mandate ended in June… even though the number of vaccinated people has increased,

    Does this finally prove that masks are a more effective way to defeat COVID-19 than vaccinations?

  2. Mary says:

    Thank you Urban Milwaukee for “covering” this issue.

    The photo which accompanies the article, however, depicts masks being
    worn with gaps on the sides. ..

    here is a link to a NY Times article about how to double mask (wear a cloth mask over a “surgical” mask)

    (By Tara Parker-Pope and Dani Blum
    March 28, 2021)


    ” The best way to double mask is to wear a surgical mask as the first layer and cover it with a cloth mask. Tightening your surgical mask is not required, but if it fits poorly, knotting the ear loops and tucking in the corners can improve its filtering efficiency by as much as 20 percent. For a longer demonstration on adjusting the fit of your surgical mask, you can watch this video from UNC Health.”

    UNC Health: Pro Tip to Help Your Earloop Mask Fit More Tightly

  3. KrisG-K says:

    Yep! As of yesterday Wisconsin is second (#2) in the nation in the percentage of increase in Covid cases.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us