At a meeting Friday morning, the Milwaukee Common Council’s Public Safety & Health Committee voted 3-0, with 2 abstentions, to reinstate a citywide indoor mask mandate. The mandate still needs approval from the full Common Council, which is set to next meet January 18.

If approved, the mandate could go into effect January 19.

Milwaukee’s previous mask mandate, which was tied to a public health order issued by the Milwaukee Health Department, ended June 1, 2021. Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson spoke at Friday’s meeting, voicing her support for issuing another mask mandate via legislation as opposed to another health order.

“I have been asking for a mask mandate since this summer,” Johnson said. “The differences in an ordinance and an order […] The statutory authority given to me as a health commissioner has come under question, and has gone to court multiple times in an attempt to strip health departments of their power.”

The question of how to reinstate a mask mandate goes back to at least September 2021. At a September 30 Public Safety & Health Committee meeting, Johnson and committee chair Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic sparred over the question, with Dimitrijevic asking for an immediate health order, and Johnson requesting Common Council action.

“If I thought universal masking indoors was going to reduce the number of cases, I would do it,” Johnson said at the September meeting. “I don’t feel strongly that it would. I don’t think it will have the impact that we want it to have.”

When Johnson asked for Common Council action at the September meeting, Dimitrijevic replied: “Why do I have to do my job twice?”

The still-needs-full-Common-Council-approval mandate currently reads thusly:

This ordinance establishes a face covering requirement for any person over 3 years old who enters a building open to the public. The ordinance further specifies that the indoor face covering requirement shall be in effect whenever the rate of transmission of the COVID-19 virus is equal to or greater than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in Milwaukee County as determined by the centers for disease control. Finally, the ordinance removes reference to the Moving Milwaukee Forward health and safety order from s. 62-8-1 of the code. The Mayor and Common Council of the City of Milwaukee do ordain as follows:

Part 1. Section 62-8-1 of the code is amended to read:

62-8. Face Covering Requirements During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

1. MASK REQUIRED INDOORS. >>Any<< person 3 years old or older who is present in the city of Milwaukee shall have possession of a face covering when the person leaves home or other place of residence and shall wear the face covering whenever the person is in a building open to the public. >>This requirement shall be in effect when the transmission rate of the COVID-19 virus or any of its variants is equal to or greater than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in Milwaukee County over the previous 7 days as determined by the centers for disease control.<<

Penalties for businesses not following the mandate would remain, though Johnson explained that the already strapped health department would be unable to proactively enforce the mandate.

The language of the mandate could be changed and updated before final discussion.

Friday’s meeting included public testimony. The owners of Bounce Milwaukee, LuLu Cafe & Bar, and Lazy Susan spoke in favor of the mandate. Milwaukee Public Schools board president Bob Peterson also spoke in favor. Emails for and against were also included in the file. Some examples:

As case numbers surge, hospital beds fill, and staff shortages send MPS students home for virtual school, an ordinance to require indoor masking is the least local government can do to help slow the spread of COVID. That the Fiserv Forum can fill with mostly unmasked spectators while local schools are closed displays a startling misplacement of community priorities.

Local businesses will only do the minimum required; without a mandate mask wearing will remain woefully low. Even if the number of people following the mandate is low, it will be non-zero, and any amount of increased masking helps. Passing this ordinance signals to the public that the City cares about the citizens of this community. Rejecting the ordinance signals an abdication of leadership.


For real, does this public safety committee do anything worthwhile?

Science has proven masks don’t work to the degree most think they do.

Let’s see a mandate from the committee banning reckless driving.

Let’s see a mandate from the committee banning auto thefts.

Let’s see a mandate from the committee banning shootings.

Let’s see a mandate from the committee banning homicides.

You’re all a joke.

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Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.