Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Moving To Institute Mask Mandate With No Enforcement

Would apply to all publicly-accessible, indoor businesses and organizations in the City of Milwaukee.

By - Jan 7th, 2022 12:51 pm
Workers wearing face masks. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

Workers wearing face masks. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

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.

“Having that sign on the door makes it infinitely easier on our staff to not have to be the bad guy,” said LuLu Cafe & Bar co-owner Cameryne Roberts to members of the Public Safety & Health Committee on Friday morning.

That’s what the measure’s sponsors, alderwomen Marina Dimitrijevic and JoCasta Zamarripa, are hoping for as they seek ways to attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“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.

The administration rescinded the emergency health order on June 1. Johnson has publicly doubted the ability of a new order to withstand legal challenges and questioned its potential effectiveness. She suggested the council pass its own standalone mask ordinance.

“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.”

The Milwaukee Health Department, prior to Johnson’s arrival, previously suspended its compliance check program because of threats to employees. It hired a private contractor to perform the work.

The commissioner said the staff is now fully allocated to staffing testing and vaccination sites. Council members, led by Dimitrijevic, have called for more hours on those sites, but Johnson has said staffing isn’t available to achieve that.

“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.

Alderman Mark Borkowski, who was skeptical of the 2020 mask mandate, took issue with the proposal. He noted his southwest side district has multiple commercial streets that are split between municipalities and cited the written comments of The Packing House restaurant owner Chris Wiken that said it would harm Milwaukee businesses.

“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.”

“We have had a stockpile of N95 to KN95s,” said Johnson. “We have been distributing those to high-risk settings.” She said a larger supply was on the way.

“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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Categories: Health, Politics, Weekly

One thought on “City Hall: Council Moving To Institute Mask Mandate With No Enforcement”

  1. Ryan Cotic says:

    Here we go again 🙁

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