'We'll never rule it out': Mask mandate still a possibility in Milwaukee as cases, hospitalizations rise

NOW: ’We’ll never rule it out’: Mask mandate still a possibility in Milwaukee as cases, hospitalizations rise

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in Wisconsin one year ago, but the state of the pandemic has barely changed.

Dec. 14, 2020 was a historic day filled with optimism and hope for the future of the pandemic. But if anything, doctors say we are pretty much in the same spot.

In fact, on Dec. 14, 2020, 3,501 cases were reported in Wisconsin. On Dec. 14, 2021, 3,847 were reported.

"I thought and I hoped a year out from the pandemic that we would be seeing much less of it," Jodie Gord said.

Gord, a manager in the respiratory ICU at Aurora St. Luke's, is starting to once again see a rise in unvaccinated patients. This is frustrating health care workers.

"We're not seeing vaccinated patients in our ICU that are fully vaccinated and healthy. We just don't see that," she said. "The stressful part is there was a way to prevent this. There is a way to prevent this."

In Milwaukee County, 339 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest in 12 months. Dr. Ben Weston with Milwaukee County says more than one in three ICU beds in the state are occupied by a COVID patient. He even said more rural parts of the state don't have any room left.

"Statewide hospital beds remain extremely constrained and we're seeing emergency departments backed up," Dr. Weston said.

Almost 61 percent of people 16 and up in Milwaukee are fully vaccinated -- not enough to curb the spread. The county remains in the extreme transmission level, with deaths increasing to three people a day.

"I think it's time to rethink masking. With the disease burden where it is and the omicron variant in our community, everyone, everyone should be masking inside when in public settings," Dr. Weston said.

Currently, there is only a mask advisory for the city of Milwaukee. Mayor Tom Barrett said mask mandates are difficult to enforce, but not completely out of the question.

"But we'll never rule it out in its entirety because it might be something we need to do," Mayor Barrett said. "I've talked to officials in cities where they do have the mask mandate and there's an enforcement issue there. So I don't want us to distract from what I consider to be the most effective tool, which is the vaccination."

With the omicron variant now making its way through the state, the health department is recommending everyone 16 and up get a booster dose, along with masking up.

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