By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Earlier this week, the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously agreed that face masks should be required in public spaces. Mayor Tom Barrett signed the ordinance into action on Tuesday, July 14.
Barrett said there are a lot of times he is excited to sign an ordinance into effect, but this was not one of those times.
“As important as this, this is not a day that I relish,” he said. “The reason this is happening is because we cannot say as a community that we have conquered COVID-19.”
Barrett continued that it was his initial hope four months ago that by now, COVID-19 would be a distant memory, that the Democratic National Convention would currently be taking place, that the Milwaukee Bucks would have won the NBA championship, that Milwaukee would be celebrating another year with decreased homicides rates and so on.
Back in March, during the quarantine and stay-at-home order, the curve flattened, Barrett said. However, the cases across the nation and in Milwaukee have begun to rise.
“We have work to do, as a community, as a state, as individuals to do what we can to flatten this curve,” he said.
Currently, Milwaukee is in Phase 4 of its Milwaukee Moves Forward Safely initiative, but there is still much work to be done. The reproductive rate of the virus in Milwaukee is 1.37, Barrett said. Several weeks ago, it was less than one.
“There are several options,” Barrett said. “We can close down all the businesses, or we can take this step, which is to tell individuals that if you are out in public you need to wear a mask.”
Barrett said he knows that some people don’t want to wear a mask, but for the sake of the community they should.
Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic of the 14th District said Milwaukeeans need to make masks the social norm. She said that the unanimous agreement of the Common Council members is a strong signal to the rest of the world that Milwaukee is united in fighting coronavirus.
“We’re a team, we can flatten this curve,” Dimitrijevic said. “Let’s mask up together.”
Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said policy saves lives and enables Milwaukee to be healthy and protected. She noted that the Common Council and the mayor have been instrumental during this process to ensure a safe Milwaukee.
As the mayor mentioned earlier, Milwaukee is in Phase 4 of its reopening plan.
“We’re not just open and everything is back to how it was,” Kowalik said. “We’re looking at the information we have right now and the best way to limit and reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”
Kowalik noted that the nice weather has encouraged people, especially the younger generation, to gather and act as if things are normal.
“We can’t just go back to how things were,” she said. “We have to move into this new normal and this new normal is masking up.”
There are exceptions to the mask if someone has a medical condition, but no one should be shamed into wearing a mask because they may have a reason, Kowalik said.
She added that the health department will be offering free masks to anyone who requests one. The health department and Common Council are also working to create a mask plan to ensure that everyone has access to a mask.
Kowalik noted that business owners will be required to enforce the mask policy. Should a business fail to comply, they will be issued a citation and possibly have their business license revoked.
“The whole point of this is to save lives,” she said. “Wearing a mask is way to show you’re a team player and that we’re all in this together.”
As of Thursday, July 16, face masks are required to be worn in public spaces in Milwaukee.