Milwaukee To Consider Citywide Mask Requirement In Public Spaces

More Than 100 Business Owners Have Asked For The Legislation

Pabst Theater, Downtown Milwaukee
File photo of the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. Gretchen Brown/WPR

As the city of Milwaukee prepares to further relax restrictions on restaurants and bars, more than 100 business owners are asking leaders to implement a mandatory mask rule.

In a letter to Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, the business owners said they don’t want Milwaukee to become like Florida or Texas, which have seen the number of COVID-19 cases increase substantially in recent weeks.

The group — which includes owners of the Bartolotta Restaurant Group, the Fiserv Forum, Collectivo Coffee and many others — is asking the elected officials to mandate that masks be worn in city public spaces including stores, theaters, museums, restaurants and bars.

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Mask mandates have been enacted in several cities and states including Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Illinois.

Gary Witt, CEO of the Pabst Theater Group and one of the leaders of the coalition, said masks have become political. By showing Milwaukee’s leaders that the business community is behind this effort, Witt hopes to take the politics out of the decision-making.

“What happened in Florida, Arizona, Texas caused a resurgence in the virus that caused businesses to close for a second time,” Witt said. “I’m not sure if that were to happen in Milwaukee, a lot of businesses could survive that.”

As of Tuesday, there were 11,397 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Milwaukee County, according to its Health and Human Services Department.

Witt said some people have questioned how mandating masks could be accomplished, but it’s simple.

“When you see a sign that says S-T-O-P, do you adhere to that? We live our lives by rules,” Witt said. “It has been proven that masks give us a 90 percent chance of not passing (coronavirus) onto anyone else.”

Dan Jacobs, who also signed the mandatory mask letter, is the owner of four Milwaukee restaurants, including Dan Dan in the Third Ward neighborhood, which has reopened but only with patio seating. On July 1, the city will expand its restrictions for indoor seating from 25 percent capacity to 50 percent capacity, but Jacobs says he will stick to 25 percent.

“Outside of staying at home, wearing a mask and staying socially distant are the two best things you can do,” Jacobs said. “And this is what doctors and scientists are telling us. This isn’t a political issue. It’s literally science. It also just shows how much respect and care you have for your fellow person.”

Dan Dan has already mandated masks. Jacobs said it keeps his guests and staff safe.

“The worst thing I think can happen to restaurants right now is to be stuck with that stigma of having to be shut down because of COVID-19,” Jacobs said. “If you shut down due to COVID-19, people are going to remember that and the stigma is going to stick for a long, long time. We want to avoid restaurants closing and this seems to be the easiest way to do that.”

Barrett said as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the south and west, he has gotten more concerned. He said he’s working with the city attorney and Common Council.

“We are very, very serious about doing what we can to reduce people to spread the exposure,” Barrett said. “When you think about the number of people who have died from COVID-19, they all caught it from somebody. So we have to do what we can do reduce the spread.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Milwaukee Alder Marina Dimitrijevic introduced legislation that will be discussed Thursday by the city’s Public Safety and Health Committee regarding a citywide face mask mandate in public spaces.

Dimitrijevic said the Milwaukee ordinance will closely resemble the mask ordinance that has been approved for the city of Los Angeles.

“We are seeing far too many communities across the nation experiencing huge spikes in the spread of COVID-19 as they reopen and do not require people going to stores, restaurants, bars and other businesses to wear masks,” she said “A clear mask requirement can help us reduce the spread of COVID-19 and prevent us from joining those ‘hot spot’ locations where the virus is quickly infecting entire communities.”

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