Milwaukee moves closer to citywide mask mandate after heated debate in committee

NOW: Milwaukee moves closer to citywide mask mandate after heated debate in committee

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The city of Milwaukee is one step closer to having a city-wide mask mandate after a committee passed the MKE Cares masking ordinance on Thursday, July 9.

"Face coverings are proven to slow and stop the spread along with social distancing and hand washing, and this legislation I believe with our effort being united -- it can really save lives," said the legislation's sponsor, Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic.

During a special meeting Thursday afternoon, the Milwaukee Common Council's Public Safety and Health Committee passed the mandate 3-1 with one alderman abstaining. The sponsors made some changes to the legislation earlier this week.

The ordinance still needs to be approved by Mayor Tom Barrett and the full Common Council, which plans to take it up during a special meeting on Monday, July 13 at 1:30 p.m.

With just a few exceptions, the ordinance would require anyone 3 years old or older to wear a face covering outside if they're within six feet of someone who isn't a family member or someone who they don't live with. They have to possess a face covering anytime they leave their homes and wear it inside any building that is open to the public.

Alderman Mark Borkowski voted against the ordinance in committee. He and Alderman Scott Spiker raised some concerns about enforcement of the mask mandate and whether masks should be required outside.

"I don't think anybody can say in their heart of hearts that this outdoor mandate is workable, is doable," Borkowski said.

Jeanette Kowalik, commissioner of health for Milwaukee, responded by saying, "When people are stagnant outdoors, less than 6 feet for more than 10 minutes or more -- that's where we're seeing the concern."

The health department is responsible for enforcing the mandate. Business owners could be fined between $50 and $500 if the people inside their businesses are not wearing masks.

During the meeting Thursday, the city attorney's office said mandating that masks be worn outdoors is not enforceable under the ordinance.

Borkowski also raised concerns that Milwaukee will be "an island" that will be required to wear face masks when the surrounding cities do not. He said his district covers areas where a different municipality is across the street.

"It makes it very, very difficult when across the street is a different municipality, and I have to try to explain that we're not all in this together," Borkowski said.

The committee also passed a resolution requiring Kowalik to set up a program to distribute free face masks to at least half the city's residents, or about 300,000 people.

The ordinance has received support from VISIT Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, according to Dimitrijevic.

"We just want to fight for these life-saving pieces of personal protective equipment, and while some of these masks aren't surgical-grade quality, they have been shown to help prevent the particles from transferring to another," said Pam Fendt, president of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council.

The ordinance does list exceptions for wearing face coverings in these circumstances:

  • Persons who fall into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for those who should not wear face coverings due to a medical condition, mental health condition, developmental disability, or are otherwise covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Persons who have upper-respiratory chronic conditions, silent or invisible disabilities.
  • Persons in settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear face coverings when obtaining or rendering goods or services to the extent necessary to obtain or render such goods or services including but not limited to the receipt of dental services or medical treatments or consuming food or beverages.
  • Whenever federal, state, or local law otherwise prohibit wearing a face mask or where it is necessary to evaluate or verify an individual’s identity.
  • Persons whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering.
  • Persons present in government facilities closed to the public, institutions of higher education, public and private K through 12 schools, and childcare or youth facilities that have a mitigation strategy approved by the commissioner of health and the board of health.
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