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Milwaukee mask mandate earns Common Council approval

A rule requiring face coverings in the city of Milwaukee has the unanimous support of the Common Council. With some exceptions, the mandate requires everyone older than 3 to wear a face covering while in buildings open to the public. Masks are also required in outdoor public spaces when people are within six feet of a person who is not part of their family or household. Business owners would be allowed to refuse entry or service to anyone who does not comply with the rule. City officials could shut down a business found violating the policy. Violations of the mandate carry a fine between $50 and $500. The mandate now goes to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is expected to sign it. The Milwaukee Health Department is responsible for enforcing the rule. The mandate would remain in place until the health department lifts its emergency orders tied to the pandemic. City leaders based the mandate in part on laws in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Prior to voting for the rule, aldermen described the mandate as imperfect but said it was a necessary first step to curb the spread of Covid-19. Alderman Marina Dimitrijevic brought the policy forward. The mandate requires the approval of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is expected to sign the legislation. The issue came before city aldermen as a coalition of business leaders pushed for the requirement. Businesses in favor of requiring the face coverings argued the issue was one not of politics but of protecting their employees, operations and guests. Many of the local employers in favor of the rule are in the hospitality industry, such as the owners of DanDan, Jewels Caribbean Restaurant and Bar and the Pabst Theater Group. In a letter to Common Council president Cavalier Johnson, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce said the mask mandate creates an unfair regulatory burden. A letter signed by WMC president and CEO Kurt Bauer said the organization encourages its members to take appropriate precautions against spreading the new coronavirus, including wearing masks, but it is not in favor of the rule’s enforcement provision.

“The ordinance would require individuals to wear masks in public, including in businesses open to the public, but penalize businesses $50-$500 per violation when individuals violate the ordinance,” the letter says. “Businesses are not law enforcement agencies and this ordinance will create unnecessary (potentially violent) conflict between employees of these businesses and clients/customers.” Bauer argued the city should take responsibility for enforcing the rule. Speaking to the Greater Milwaukee Committee during a virtual meeting Monday, Medical College of Wisconsin president and CEO Dr. John Raymond Sr. said evidence shows mask mandates result in more compliance with guidance for people to cover their faces to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Public health officials believe masks, combined with hand hygiene and physical distancing, can help stop the spread of the virus. At the same time, Raymond said in response to a question from Milwaukee Ald. Russell Stamper, a mandate could face legal challenges, and the relationship between police and the community “isn’t optimal right now.” “You have to balance their willingness to either educate or enforce and the possibility that friction between our communities and law enforcement might get worse because of a mandate,” Raymond said. “I don’t envy you for having to try to balance those two sides of the equation.”


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