'Most effective tool': Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett weighs in on mask advisory over mandate

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee hasn't seen the omicron variant of COVID-19 yet, but city leaders are preparing for its probable arrival by advising people to wear face coverings.

The City of Milwaukee Health Department is strongly encouraging all residents older than two years old to wear a mask when in public, indoor settings.

"We feel that we are using what would be the most effective tool right now," Mayor Tom Barrett said.

CBS 58 asked him why the city chose to advise mask-wearing over mandating it.

"I think there are concerns with a mandate as to enforceability, as to how effective it would be, and what we want to do more than anything is educate people. We don't want to punish people," Barrett said.

Barrett said the city doesn't want to punish people, but they also don't have the means to.

"The fact of the matter is that we don't have the personnel to go and enforce this," Barrett said. "The police aren't going to do it. We don't have the health department officials to do it."

Masking is a recommendation Dr. Minhaj Husain, an infectious disease physician with Aurora Healthcare, has told his patients since the very beginning of the pandemic.

"As far as a mask advisory, I do think that's definitely very helpful," Husain said. "Whether you're vaccinated or not, keep your mask on at all times, especially in crowded areas, public places," Husain said.

City leaders and health professionals are hopeful people will voluntarily comply. If not for them, for their family and neighbors.

"Just to reduce the chain of transmission for the variant, or not, or other variants, I think masks are definitely very advisable," Husain said.

Barrett said a mask mandate is not off the table, and won't be off the table until the pandemic is over.

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