Milwaukee will join the neighboring Village of Shorewood and Dane County in requiring residents to wear masks in public places.
The unanimous vote from the Milwaukee Common Council will require residents 3 years and older to wear masks in public buildings and outdoors where maintaining six feet of distance is not possible. The ordinance, barring any delay from the mayor, is expected to take effect Thursday.
Alder Marina Dimitrijevic said the recent increase in cases had forced the issue on the need to implement a mask mandate.
“Our biggest ally in this fight to require that face coverings in the city of Milwaukee, unfortunately, has been the record breaking spikes,” she said. “I do believe that with a massive effort along with the masks for all we can, we can change this.”
Along with the vote to require face masks for residents, the council also voted to give all Milwaukee residents a free mask that will be distributed at municipal buildings including fire stations, police stations and libraries.
“I truly believe Milwaukee will rise to the occasion and do what’s right for one another,” Dimitrijevic said.
Alder JoCasta Zamarippa said the Supreme Court ruling that would prohibit the governor from issuing a statewide mask order, necessitates Milwaukee issuing a local order.
“We’re one of only three or four states that have no state-wide mask policy in place, so really Milwaukee has to do this,” she said.
The ordinance received support from many Milwaukee businesses, who said the order would ensure safe working environments for employees and help restart economic activity.
“Without a city mandate, many customers will not be willing to come to our businesses,” a coalition of businesses wrote ahead of the vote. “Milwaukee residents and businesses cannot afford to wait for you to act.”
The state’s main business lobby however, argued companies should not be required to enforce such an ordinance.
“Businesses are not law enforcement agencies and this Ordinance will create unnecessary (potentially violent) conflict between employees of these businesses and clients/customers,” Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce CEO Kurt Bauer wrote in a letter to the council.
The issue of local responses to the COVID-19 pandemic was also in the spotlight during the state Republican Party convention, where local public health orders were decried by party chairman Andrew Hitt as draconian.
Violators of the ordinance, which will be enforced by the Milwaukee Health Department, could face a fine between $50 and $500.