Milwaukee Health Department Says Reinstating Mask Ordinance Won’t Slow Pandemic

Teachers, Parents, Non-profit Groups Call On Milwaukee Mayor, Health Department To Require Masks Indoors

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

Parents, teachers, hospitality workers and health care professionals are asking the city of Milwaukee to reinstate its indoor mask mandate.

In a letter sent to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the city’s health department Wednesday, the coalition said the action is “long past due,” with COVID-19 numbers “steadily above extreme transmission levels in our city and around the state.”

Alondra Garcia teaches second grade at Allen-Field Elementary School on Milwaukee’s south side. She said it’s pointless to have children wear a mask all day at school and then go into the community unprotected.

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“It’s unfair for our staff, our teachers and our students,” Garcia said, adding that those within school buildings are adhering to strict masking rules and the community should follow suit.

As of Thursday, three Milwaukee Public Schools were moved to virtual learning due to positive COVID-19 cases, according to the MPS dashboard.

“We are all tired of (the pandemic), but we could get through it faster if people would actually work together and not just think of themselves,” Garcia said.

Milwaukee is dealing with “extreme transmission” of COVID-19, according to the Milwaukee Health Department, with 313.5 new positive cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days.

About 56 percent of Milwaukee County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said Thursday she’s not planning to reinstate the mask mandate.

Johnson said at this time the pandemic is mostly affecting unvaccinated individuals and while breakthrough cases of vaccinated people can still occur, the serious illness, hospitalization and death is prevented by the vaccine.

During a Milwaukee Health Department committee meeting Thursday, Alder Marina Dimitrijevic pushed the Johnson into implementing a health order, but she stood firm.

“If I thought a health order would have the intended impact of decreasing the disease, then I would issue the health order,” Johnson said. “I am not convinced at this time, that a mask mandate will decrease transmission in our community.”

The committee moved forward without taking action.

The Common Council can call a special meeting and reinstate the mask ordinance without the health department but hasn’t signaled it will do so.

Racine, Madison and Chicago have all reinstated mask mandates.

Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association President Amy Mizialko said the city has had an “under-response” to the pandemic that has been baffling.

“For 18 months now we’ve all known about the Swiss cheese analogy about multiple layers of mitigation,” Mizialko said. “We obviously want everyone vaccinated, but we are faced with large numbers of unvaccinated folks in Milwaukee and in the state so we have to continue to employ every mitigation measure at our disposal.”