Will Milwaukee be required to mask up again? Some council members want mandate reinstated

NOW: Will Milwaukee be required to mask up again? Some council members want mandate reinstated

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Discussions are underway about the possibility of a mask mandate returning to Milwaukee once again.

Some members of Common Council are pushing for that to happen, while business leaders say let's not hit the gas pedal quite yet.

Dane County reinstated its indoor mask mandate this week amid concerns about the contagious Delta variant spreading.

Milwaukee Common Council will reconvene next month. On Wednesday, August 18, Mayor Tom Barrett said council members will discuss whether Milwaukee needs a mask mandate again. He acknowledged the opinions on this issue will be mixed.

"Our numbers are actually higher than they are in Madison, so that's something to keep in mind. They're actually higher than they are in Chicago, as of today," Barrett said.

Data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services showed over the last two weeks, Dane County had "high" case activity with 245 cases per 100,000. Milwaukee County had 471.6 cases per 100,000 and had "very high" case activity.

The most recent update on Friday, August 13, from the Milwaukee Health Department showed in the city, the burden rate was 232.5 positive cases per 100,000 people.

"We've been having conversations with Alderwoman (Marina) Dimitrijevic, who is very interested in having a mask mandate," Barrett said.

Dimitrijevic chairs the city's Public Safety and Health Committee.

A spokesperson from Dimitrijevic's office said she was unavailable for comment on Wednesday. Last week, Dimitrijevic told CBS 58 she was concerned about the city's extreme transmission levels as students, many of whom are unvaccinated, head back to classrooms.

Barrett said a mask mandate would have to go through Common Council to help withstand legal attacks.

Business leaders want to see the process play out in council.

"It also makes it a more democratic process and lets the public be more involved and more opinions be heard. So I think the mayor's laid out a great plan," said Steve Baas, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

But Baas said he's worried about the potential economic impact of reinstating a mandate.

"Businesses would worry about being an island here in the city of Milwaukee with surrounding communities without mask mandates," Baas said.

Alderman Bob Bauman agreed with that idea, saying passing a mask mandate would make Milwaukee a "regulatory island" and he's concerned about enforcement. He said he's surprised the mayor wants the process to go through council.

"The mayor and (Commissioner Kirsten Johnson) have the complete authority under current state law to enact the mandate. He seems to be kicking the can down the road here," Bauman said.

He said he won't support a mask mandate unless it's enacted by the health commissioner. 

"That's, in effect, saying, 'We know more than the Commissioner of Public Health,'" Bauman said.

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