Milwaukee business community bracing for confusion once latest mask mandate goes into effect

NOW: Milwaukee business community bracing for confusion once latest mask mandate goes into effect

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee's business community is expressing concern about the new indoor mask mandate that's expected to be signed.

That mandate passed in the common council Tuesday morning by a 12-1 vote, with one abstention.

Those concerns focus on enforcement: business owners say the responsibility of policing the mandate is now being shifted to them. And they say it's hitting at a terrible time, as businesses are still struggling to get back on their feet.

Shawn Leet, the co-owner of The Stone, says there's no profit right now, and it's a struggle to pay bills. "I can tell you we're probably still under 50% of what we were prior to the pandemic still. And this I think would just draw us to a quarter of that."

Leet watched customers stay away while he rigorously enforced the first mask mandate.

He says another mask mandate could again crash his business, this time for good. "I don't know that in six weeks, five or six weeks we wouldn't be completely under water."

But the lone "no" vote in the common council says the ordinance is largely toothless. Alderman Mark Borkowski said, "Let's not kid ourselves. It's a paper tiger."

There won't be fines, and both the mayor and health commissioner admit it won't be enforced.

Commissioner of Health Kirsten Johnson said, "We don't have the staff to do it right now."

Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson said, "It's not a priority. I'm not interested in the health department being punitive towards businesses or being punitive towards individuals."

But the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is concerned with vague language and possible repercussions for businesses that cannot force customers to mask up.

President Tim Sheehy said, "It comes with a threat that at some point the council could revoke your license to operate." Sheehy says there will be confusion and concern on day one.

Leet, the bar owner, says it's no longer about public health. "To require a business owner such as myself, or any business owner, to protect those that don't want to protect themselves, I think is an overreach, an oversight."

Leet said as a liquor license holder he will follow the law. But he added if this mandate puts the bar under like it did before, he's not sure it'll ever reopen.

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