By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Even though the mask mandate is no longer in place, it’s not unusual to see mask up signs throughout Milwaukee. Many buildings, restaurants and stores have encouraged people to put on a mask before entering the facility, especially if individuals remain unvaccinated. And many people have maintained the practice of wearing a mask when outside of their home.
The City of Milwaukee issued a mask advisory last Tuesday, Nov. 30. The advisory was in responses to the World Health Organization’s recent announcement that a new COVID-19 variant known as omicron is on the rise.
At the time of the city’s announcement no omicron cases had been found in Milwaukee, but the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced that it had detected a case of the COVID-19 omicron variant on Saturday, Dec. 4. The case referred to a Milwaukee County man.
The man was fully vaccinated and had received his booster dose. He had recently traveled to South Africa, where the variant was first discovered in November.
“We’ve been prepared for this news and will continue trusting the science to help keep Wisconsinites and our communities healthy and safe,” said Gov. Tony Evers in the Department of Health Services press release.
Evers continued, “Now is the time to double down on our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, including the Omicron variant. I urge all eligible Wisconsinites to get vaccinated and receive a booster dose as soon as possible and to follow the latest public health guidance.”
The City of Milwaukee’s mask advisory applies to all individuals in the city who are 2 years old and older and who are able to medically tolerate wearing a mask, according to the Milwaukee Health Department.
“The Milwaukee Health Department is issuing a mask advisory for all individuals regardless of vaccination status or pass COVID-19 infection,” Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said during the city and county’s weekly COVID-19 updates on Tuesday, Nov. 30.
Johnson continued, “This advisory is to wear a mask when indoors and in a public setting.”
A mask should cover the nose and the mouth and must be worn at all times unless sleeping, eating or drinking, practicing a competitive sport, performing and so on. COVID-19 is spread by inhaling respiratory droplets, Johnson said, and studies show that masks effectively block the release and inhalation of infected droplets.
“It is crucial for us to layer measures to protect ourselves and our community,” she said.
Johnson noted that the best weapon against the virus is vaccinations. At the time of the press conference only 59.8% of individuals 16 and older in Milwaukee were fully vaccinated. She added that the vaccine and booster shots are available at all Milwaukee Health Department sites.
Karen Timberlake, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services secretary-designee, also commented on vaccines in the Wisconsin Health Department’s press release regarding the omicron variant case.
“With the detection of omicron in Wisconsin, Wisconsinites should stay vigilant in their efforts to stay healthy and to help prevent further strain on our heavily burdened hospital system,” said Timberlake.
She added, “As we learn more about this variant and how easily it spreads, it’s crucial that all Wisconsinites continue to practice good public health safety measures like getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, staying home if you’re sick, and getting tested.”