Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee Giving Away Free N95/KN95 Masks

More than 1% of all Milwaukee residents tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

By - Jan 7th, 2022 07:51 pm
Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson and Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson speak with an employee at the Northwest Health Center vaccine clinic. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson and Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson speak with an employee at the Northwest Health Center vaccine clinic. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The City of Milwaukee will begin giving away free N95 respirators (masks) on Saturday. The Milwaukee Health Department received a shipment of 500,000 of the more protective masks on Friday.

On Saturday, the masks will be freely available at the Southside Health Center, 1639 S. 23rd St., and Northwest Health Center, 7630 W. Mill Rd., from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Starting Monday they will be available at all three testing sites (including the Menomonee Valley) as well all 13 Milwaukee Public Library branches during each facility’s normal hours.

The masks, sized for adults, will be handed out in packages of five for single adults, 10 for a couple or 20 for a family.

“I’m really thankful for the mayor’s office and for the governor’s office for expediting the process for us to be able to have these on hand for Milwaukee residents,” said Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson in a virtual press conference Friday evening. An additional shipment of 50,000 KN95 masks, paid for with city resources, is expected next week and the city is looking to procure masks for children.

The commissioner said she hopes the initial shipment lasts at least two weeks.

“These higher quality masks do a better job of keeping COVID at bay,” said Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson. The N95 and KN95 standards are both recommended as they provide greater protection to the wearer than cloth or surgical masks. The masks can be worn for approximately five days and must be stored in a dry place. They cannot be washed.

“I’ve learned just over the past week just how transmissible COVID-19, particularly the Omicron variant, is,” said the acting mayor. Johnson announced Jan 2. he had contracted COVID-19. At an earlier, virtual press conference Friday he was shown back in his City Hall office.

The mask announcement came as a Common Council committee recommended approval of a new mask mandate for the city. Alderman Mark Borkowski was critical of the city for its practice of giving away cloth masks when multiple reports are suggesting the material is less effective in reducing spread of the omicron variant. But the commissioner, checking her notes during the meeting, said a shipment of the KN95/N95 masks was on its way in the next day and that prior smaller shipments were prioritized for those in congregate settings.

City officials at all levels reiterated their call on Friday for individuals to get vaccinated. Only 8% of children ages 5 to 11 are vaccinated, which the commissioner said was a reflection of the larger problem of getting adults vaccinated. A state dashboard says that only 53.4% of all Milwaukee residents are vaccinated, a rate which varies substantially by ZIP code. State data shows that unvaccinated people are hospitalized at a rate 11 times higher than those who are fully vaccinated.

Individuals looking to get vaccinated at any of the COVID-19 drive-through testing sites should turn their flashers on to signal their intention and avoid the line. Earlier Friday, the health commissioner said testing volumes  dropped by 25% in recent days, reducing waits for testing.

Those getting tested meanwhile are demonstrating a disease spread unseen throughout the pandemic. According to health department data, 38.5% of all city tests showed a positive result in the past week. More than 1% of Milwaukee residents have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, 1,034 cases per 100,000 residents (up from 571.7 the week prior).

As of Jan. 5, 685 people are hospitalized in Milwaukee County with a confirmed case of the disease, the highest total since 2020. In the past two weeks, hospital bed usage in the southeast Wisconsin healthcare region grew by 28%. A total of 91.5% of general beds and 94.8% of intensive care unit beds are in use.

More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

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One thought on “Milwaukee Giving Away Free N95/KN95 Masks”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    The number of COVID cases in Milwaukee dropped close to zero in May/June of 2021 when the mask mandate was enforced. Then everyone ripped their masks off. Now COVID is spreading like wildfire once again.

    We could have saved thousands of lives if the mask mandate had remained in effect. And the COVID pandemic would probably be over by now. But the pro-vaccine Karens and Joe Biden blamed everything on “unvaccinated people” instead of “unmasked people”.

    Does anyone know how many Democratic voters have lost their jobs so far because of Joe Biden’s vaccine policy?

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