Milwaukee Common Council approves mask requirement

The Milwaukee Common Council unanimously approved an ordinance Monday requiring people to wear masks in public spaces while the city's COVID-19 health order is in place.

"If you are going to do business during a pandemic in the City of Milwaukee, make sure you're protecting your employees and visitors," lead sponsor Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic said during a news conference ahead of the afternoon meeting. "We're partners in this. We want a healthy city."

The council also unanimously adopted a separate proposal to provide free masks to city residents. 

The measure directs Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik to create a program in which city residents can request and receive a free face mask.

Mayor Tom Barrett said Monday that his office had been working with the City Attorney's Office in addition to Dimitrijevic and Common Council President Cavalier Johnson to make sure the ordinance is effective. 

"I believe that in order for us to curtail the growth of this disease, we have to take more steps, and when I say 'we,' I mean local government, local businesses and individuals. ... It's not just about you, it's about if you think you're Superman or you're Superwoman and you don't care about this, you still come in contact with people who can be infected," Barrett said.

If Barrett were to sign the legislation on Monday or Tuesday, the ordinance would go into effect on Thursday, according to Milwaukee City Clerk Jim Owczarski.

The mask mandate requires anyone in the city who is at least 3 years old to have a face covering when they leave home and to wear that mask whenever they're in a building that is open to the public and when they are outside in a public space and within six feet of any other person who is not their household or family member.

There are exceptions to the mask policy, including:

Owners and operators of buildings open to the public are charged with ensuring that people in their buildings comply with the mandate. They would be able to refuse to serve or allow entry to people who aren't complying with the mandate, the measure states.

Those allowing people to violate the order in their buildings could be fined between $50 and $500.

"The commissioner of health and city attorney are authorized to pursue license revocation or a court order closing a building open to the public in accordance with state and local law for failing to require persons present to abide" by the mandate, the measure states.

RELATED:Dane County's new mask mandate is in place, but don't call the police if it's being violated

Dimitrijevic said Monday that she hopes people comply, but she said there would be progressive punitive measures for noncompliance.

Common Council members also pushed for ensuring that the measures are effectively communicated, in multiple languages, to the community and to businesses.

"We need to ensure that the education piece and then the marketing strategy is going to be a robust one," Ald. Chantia Lewis said.

She also said that communication was important to ensure that people know to call the Health Department, not police, if they see someone not wearing a mask.

Ald. Mark Borkowski, who voted against the measure in committee citing his concern about the requirement to wear masks outside, said he remained a bit troubled by that element of the legislation. Even so, he ultimately supported the mask mandate on Monday.

"I've had many calls and texts and some thorough introspection" since the committee meeting last week, he said. "I am not going to be a 'no' vote, I am not going to dissent on this. I think that this is too important for our city."

At the same time, he said, the city needs to develop a plan for efficiently answering questions about how to comply with the ordinance in the innumerable scenarios that could come up.

The measure to provide free masks seeks to provide masks to at least half of the city's residents and authorizes the Health Department to accept in-kind donations and donations of up to $100,000 to be spent on the effort.

Kowalik must report on the status of the program within 60 days of the measure going into effect.

Dane County officials last week issued the state's first order requiring masks and Shorewood became the first Milwaukee-area community to pass a mask mandate. Madison and Dane County's public health department asked residents not to call the police if someone is violating the new requirement, as health conditions or disabilities can make the task difficult.

Contact Alison Dirr at 414-224-2383 or adirr@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonDirr

https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/local/milwaukee/2020/07/13/milwaukee-common-council-approves-mask-requirement/5363137002/