'We cannot do this again': Health commissioner pleads for people to get vaccinated amid Delta variant concerns

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee is seeing rising COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers, predominantly due to the highly contagious Delta variant, according to the Milwaukee Health Department.

During a news conference on Wednesday, July 28, announcing two Back-to-School Health fairs, Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson held back tears as she pleaded with Milwaukee residents.

"I was there when the first person died in Wisconsin in a nursing home in Ozaukee County. We cannot do this again. So please, please get vaccinated," said Johnson, who formerly served as health officer for the Washington-Ozaukee Health Department.

Mayor Tom Barrett said while people who are unvaccinated can contract COVID-19, Milwaukee is currently seeing "a pandemic of the unvaccinated."

"All of us recognize that the news that we're hearing about the Delta variant is very troubling news," Barrett said.

Barrett said he and Johnson have had several conversations this week about potential next steps.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its masking recommendations on Tuesday. The CDC is now urging vaccinated people in certain areas of the country to resume wearing masks indoors in public areas.

Johnson said the city is "embracing" the CDC guidance and recommending people wear masks and get vaccinated. Johnson said children younger than sixth grade likely are not vaccinated because they are not eligible, making them a vulnerable population, along with people who cannot get vaccinated.

"We have got to get vaccinated. I don't know how to make a more of a plea. I don't know what else to say. But I want my children safe when they go to school in the fall. We all want each other's children safe. I want my my parents safe, my grandparents safe. We all do," Johnson said.

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