MTEA says Milwaukee mask advisory is not enough, calls for indoor mask requirements

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MILWAUKEE -- (CBS 58) The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association referred to Milwaukee's mask advisory and the health department's education efforts as "hollow words," saying that more needs to be done in the community to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

"The MTEA renews and continues to call for a requirement for masks indoors in the city of Milwaukee so long as we are in serious transmission," said Ben Ward, the MTEA's executive director. "The Milwaukee Health Department and the city of Milwaukee has an opportunity to protect the citizens of Milwaukee and help to alleviate the strain that this unchecked spread is putting on hospitals, on schools and on working families who don't have a safety net when this serious illness affects their families."

As of 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 1, Milwaukee Public Schools reported 38 new cases of COVID-19 with 155 positive cases reported throughout the district over the last seven days. There are 243 current open cases and one school in the district.

The district currently requires students and staff inside its buildings to wear a mask when not eating or drinking, something Mayor Tom Barrett applauded when asked about the mask advisory's impact on COVID-19 in schools.

"I think that's a wise policy," Mayor Barrett said. "I think the school board and the superintendent made the right decision there."

Mayor Barrett says that while right now the goal is to educate people and get them to start thinking about virus mitigation efforts again, the possibility of a mask mandate in the city is still on the table.

"We have never taken that off the table," Mayor Barrett said. "We won't take it off the table as long as the pandemic is still here."

Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson released the following statement saying, "Yesterday, in anticipation of future identification of the Omicron variant in Milwaukee, the increasing burden of positive COVID-19 cases, and the knowledge of increased socializing indoors because of the winter, the Milwaukee Health Department released a mask advisory for all individuals in the city of Milwaukee, regardless of vaccination status or past COVID-19 infection, within public, indoor spaces. We are grateful and supportive of all the schools, including MPS, who implemented and continue to maintain masking requirements within their buildings as one layer of protection for students and faculty.

Protecting yourself and your community from COVID-19 takes a layered mitigation approach. While we work together to get everyone five years of age and older in Milwaukee vaccinated, we must continue to practice other safety mitigations, which include masking and physical distancing. The Milwaukee Health Department strongly urges everyone over the age of two to continue wearing a face covering that snugly covers the nose and mouth. We support all businesses who choose to enact their own mask or vaccine requirements, as we work together to keep Milwaukee safe and healthy."

As for Ward and the MTEA, he says the hope is that community leaders will turn words into action by requiring masks be worn while inside buildings within the city of Milwaukee.

"We will continue to demand that the health commissioner, and the mayor, and the common council do something," Ward said. "Very little is going to drive home the importance of wearing a mask indoors other than requiring it and making sure that people are doing it and that there's some consequence if it's not being done."

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