Proposal Would Require All City Of Milwaukee Employees To Be Vaccinated Or Face Weekly COVID-19 Testing

Push Comes As Cases Increase 330 Percent In 2 Weeks

A sign says "COVID-19 Vaccine Entrance" as fans walk by holding drinks.
Fans walk past a sign advertising COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday, July 20, 2021, outside the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A new proposal in Milwaukee would require all city workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face weekly testing.

Alder Robert Bauman is asking the city’s Department of Employee Relations to develop the policy as COVID-19 cases in the city continue to increase.

The city’s Common Council is on recess in August and won’t take up the measure until mid-September, unless a special meeting is called. Bauman said he’s hoping the proposal forces Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to mandate the vaccine for city employees.

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“It’s time we act, this problem is serious, it’s all self-inflicted in the sense that the spread of this delta (variant) is largely a function of unvaccinated people who are just being defiant, acting out of ignorance,” Bauman said. “I’m angry about it. We are jeopardizing the economic vitality of the region, there is the inconvenience of going back to masking. I have very strong suspicions that capacity limits will not be far in the distance.”

Bauman went on to say he feared large gatherings would soon be shut down, including Summerfest, which was canceled for the first time in 2020.

During a press conference last week, Barrett said he’s been in discussions with the Department of Employee Relations and the city’s health commissioner about the issue.

“We want to lead by example,” Barrett said. “We know there are a number of organizations, in particular health care organizations, that have mandated this. We’re looking at the legal ramifications of this and seeing what we can do.”

Bauman is asking that the city’s roughly 6,200 employees provide proof of full vaccination. If they can’t provide that, they’ll need proof a negative COVID-19 diagnostic test (not an antibody test) at least once per week. Unvaccinated employees will also be required to wear face coverings at all times.

Any employees unwilling to comply with the policy will not be permitted to report to work and may be subject to disciplinary action, according to the proposal.

If approved by the Common Council, the Department of Employee Relations would begin implementation of the new proof-of-vaccination and mandatory testing policy within one month of adopting the resolution.

Currently, 50.5 percent of those ages 16 years old and up in Milwaukee are fully vaccinated, with 54.7 percent having received at least one dose.

A voluntary vaccination survey was conducted by the Department of Employee Relations in June. Of the 2,466 employees who responded, about 81 percent were vaccinated. Unfortunately, this data is not inclusive of all employees and the City of Milwaukee has not kept track of vaccination records, said Makda Fessahaye, department director.

Last week, the Milwaukee Health Department issued a statement strongly advising everyone, regardless of vaccine status, to wear masks when indoors with people outside their household.

Because of the dominant presence of the delta variant in Milwaukee, the burden rate in the city has gone from the “low transmission” category into the “substantial transmission” category, according to the health department.

“Breakthrough COVID-19 infections are rare but possible for those who are fully vaccinated,” the health department stated.

Health Care Organizations Require COVID-19 Vaccinations

On Monday, the Wisconsin Medical Society joined other health organizations, including the Wisconsin Hospital Association, in calling on all health care entities to require COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees.

SSM Health, the Mayo Clinic Health System, Children’s Wisconsin, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Ascension Wisconsin and ProHealth Care are already mandating vaccines.

Despite pleas for voluntary vaccination participation, Wisconsin is seeing another surge in COVID-19 infections, with a 330 percent increase in the seven-day rolling average of new confirmed cases in just two weeks, according to the Wisconsin Medical Society.

“At some point, all employers have to step up and start mandating vaccinations to protect their employees and customers,” Wisconsin Medical Society COVID-19 Task Force Chair David Letzer said in a statement. “Mandates similar to what we already have in place for measles or influenza are needed. It’s time for all health care employers to lead by example, do the right thing and take this necessary next step.”