Council Moving To Institute Mask Mandate With No Enforcement
Would apply to all publicly-accessible, indoor businesses and organizations in the City of Milwaukee.
The city of Milwaukee may once again be under an indoor mask requirement. A Milwaukee Common Council committee recommended passage of the new policy Friday on a 3-0-2 vote.
But the proposal comes with no planned enforcement from the health department. Still, a number of business owners view it as a positive public health measure.
“We know what’s easier for business owners is when they put up that sign that it’s required by the government,” said Dimitrijevic.
“We are the largest city in the state of Wisconsin, I believe we have to be leaders,” said Zamarripa.
The full council is scheduled to meet on Jan. 18. An approval could put the measure into effect by Jan. 19.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson is supporting the policy after rejecting calls from Dimitrjevic and others to institute an emergency health order that would automatically restore the prior mask order.
“I think we should absolutely have an indoor mask order, yes,” said Johnson. But she remains skeptical of its potential impact. “I don’t think it will necessarily have an impact on our burden rate… It will protect some of our employees.”
Johnson said she remains concerned about people walking across the street to another municipality where the requirement isn’t in effect.
“I do believe a more effective [mandate] would be a regional or statewide or nationwide mask ordinance,” she said.
The proposal would apply to individuals three years old or older in any public, indoor setting. The measure would be in effect whenever the seven-day total of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents exceeds 100. It currently stands at 1,034 cases per 100,000 residents.
The commissioner has no plan to enforce the new mandate with citations. “We will not be fining businesses,” she said. Johnson “We are losing staff because of how difficult it is to enforce this policy.”
“I really want us to push education over enforcement,” said Zamarripa. A Dane County mask order includes a stepped approach to enforcement that includes fines.
Later in the meeting, it was revealed that the proposed configuration would leave the potential for $500 citations to be issued. The proposal, as configured, would update only a portion of the previously approved mask mandate. Johnson and multiple council members expressed confusion over that.
Zamarripa said she anticipated making amendments before the full council considers the proposal.
Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II asked for the addition of funding for an educational campaign. He said he would help find the money from the health department’s COVID-19 federal funding allocations.
“My heart wants to do the whole mask thing because it makes me feel good,” the alderman said. “But my brain and logic says this is basically a paper tiger so Milwaukee will continue to be an island.”
He questioned the city’s policy of handing out cloth masks, while research has shown that N95, KN95 and surgical masks are more effective at preventing disease transmission.
“These clothes masks that the city is providing are really not that effective,” he said. “If we are going to make a difference with masks and we know that the N95 or its equivalent is the one that actually works… then those masks should be available.”
“For me it seems that this is more symbolic than actually substantive,” said Ald. Khalif Rainey. “I am going to be watching to see how the community actually responds to it.”
“It’s pretty clear this isn’t a mask mandate. This is ‘you should be wearing a mask,'” said Ald. Scott Spiker. “We as a city, if we pass this [ordinance], aren’t making anyone do anything.”
Dimitrijevic, Rainey and Jose G. Perez voted for the policy. Borkowski and Spiker both abstained, citing the confusion over the potential penalties.
“If we can reduce the places within our jurisdiction where this can be transmitted the science shows this is worth the risk,” said Dimitrijevic.
Bounce Milwaukee owners Ryan Clancy and Becky Cooper-Clancy, Lazy Susan owner A.J. Dixon, Milwaukee Public Schools board president Bob Peterson, acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioner Carrie Murphy and resident Ashley Thompson testified in favor of the mandate.
Paul Mozina, a public critic of COVID-19 vaccines, was the lone public commenter to speak critically of the policy. He said cloth masks trap bacteria and inhibit children’s learning. Mozina said that the council and health department are guilty of “appalling negligence” for failing to promote prophylactic treatments.
While no citywide order has been in effect since June 2021, the City of Milwaukee has maintained a mask mandate at its facilities.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article said Mozina said cloth masks spread bacteria, he said they trap bacteria.
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