City of Milwaukee asks people to mask up after Milwaukee County reaches ‘high’ level of COVID-19

Advisory is for everyone over the age of 2 — regardless of vaccination status or previous COVID-19 infection

A sign on a clear glass door says "Face Covering Required."
Signs instruct customers to wear face masks and maintain social distancing Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The City of Milwaukee Health Department is recommending people again wear face coverings as the county experiences a high level of community spread of COVID-19.

City health officials have issued a mask advisory for everyone over the age of 2 who can medically tolerate wearing a mask. The advisory applies to everyone — regardless of vaccination status or past COVID-19 infection.

Milwaukee County moved from “medium” COVID-19 levels of spread to “high” Thursday.

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In a statement Friday, officials said individuals should wear a mask at all times when indoors and in a public setting. The department is also recommending residents stay up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines, avoid crowded spaces and seek out testing when feeling sick or identified as a close contact.

The announcement comes as the state is seeing a rise in cases across the board, as reported earlier this week.

Officials from Madison and Dane County are also raising awareness of rising numbers. In Dane County, new cases have tripled in the past month, Janel Heinrich, Public Health of Madison and Dane County director, said at a virtual press conference Friday.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi also spoke at the press conference, shortly after he announced he tested positive for the virus.

“We were trying to find a way to bring rising COVID rates to people’s attention and COVID found me, so I can vouch for the fact that COVID is back,” he said.

The seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin is 1,980 as of Friday, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. DHS has confirmed 12,966 total deaths from the disease and 1,565 total probable deaths. About 61 percent of eligible Wisconsinites are fully vaccinated.

Eighteen counties in Wisconsin now have a high level of community spread, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Thursday, community levels of COVID-19 are low in 19 of the state’s 72 counties, medium in 35 counties and high in 18 counties, according to the CDC. Those levels are based on the number of cases and hospital capacity in a community.

Dane County is currently at the high end of the “medium” level of spread, according to the CDC. But if the county were to tip into the “high” category, Heinrich said the agency would “strongly recommend” the use of masks. It wouldn’t be an order or a mandate because we’ve entered a different phase of the pandemic, she said.

“We have tools available to prevent more illness that we did not have at the beginning of the pandemic,” Heinrich said. “And we are not quite in the same place with our surges as we were earlier as well.”

DHS Secretary Karen Timberlake encouraged anyone who isn’t vaccinated to get vaccinated.

“To all Wisconsinites: as more Wisconsin counties move into high COVID-19 Community Levels, we urge everyone eligible for COVID-19 vaccines to ensure that they have received all recommended vaccinations, including booster and additional doses,” she said in a statement Friday. “When more people in Wisconsin are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, more people are protected against severe health outcomes associated with COVID-19. This reduces strain on hospitals, slows the spread of disease, and saves lives.”

To find a COVID-19 vaccine provider, visit vaccines.gov or dial 211.

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