Mayor Barrett debating requiring city employees to be vaccinated or face repeated COVID-19 testing

NOW: Mayor Barrett debating requiring city employees to be vaccinated or face repeated COVID-19 testing

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee officials are debating whether or not to require city employees get vaccinated as COVID-19 infections continue to surge.

It follows President Biden's push to require federal employees to show proof of vaccination or face repeated testing requirements to take a more aggressive approach to address the spread of the delta variant.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he's been talking with health officials about the possibility of implementing a similar requirement for city employees.

"I don't like how the COVID-19 numbers are trending very seriously in the wrong direction, there's a possibility we'll take more action," said Barrett. "It would be a vaccination mandate or requirement of weekly testing as well as making sure people are masked at all times."

Barrett said he's currently working to collect data to see how many city employees are vaccinated. From there, they will decide whether to implement vaccine mandates and testing requirements.

Medical professionals support the idea of employer vaccine mandates as it could help boost vaccination rates. However, it's likely to trigger lawsuits of those who say it infringes on their rights.

"There will be lawsuits, we've seen them already," said Ajay Sethi, associate professor of population health sciences at UW-Madison. "While I do think this will have some ripple effect, some positive ripple effects will be the general public will see that this is a safe and effective vaccine."

Milwaukee County falls under the "high" transmission rate category for the number of positive infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending people to wear masks indoors.

The city of Milwaukee issued those guidelines on Wednesday but stopped short of mandating masks indoors.

Instead they are "strongly" advising everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask when indoors with people outside of their household. 

“The most effective way to combat this surge in positive cases is through vaccination, but until vaccination rates improve, we must be willing to take simple steps such as wearing a mask to protect our community and the most vulnerable," said Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson.

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