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Milwaukee will require mask wearing in public spaces

The Milwaukee Common Council on Monday afternoon unanimously approved an ordinance requiring masks in public spaces.

Under the ordinance, which Mayor Tom Barrett has said he will sign into law, anyone age 3 or older will be required to wear a face covering in public buildings and any outdoor public space where it is not possible for people to stay six feet away from others outside of their family or household.

The ordinance will fine businesses that do not comply, and makes some exceptions for health and religious reasons. A similar mandate requiring everybody over the age of 5 to wear a face covering went into effect in Dane County this morning.

Milwaukee's ordinance will not be enforced by police, but rather by the health department. Penalties for businesses not enforcing the mandate would start with a warning, followed by citations of between $50 and $500. Businesses that repeatedly violate the law could lose their licenses and be shut down.

Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic sponsored the resolution, citing great urgency to act in the face of surging COVID-19 cases around the state. “The science on face coverings is clear, as they help stop the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” she wrote in a statement last month. “When you wear a face mask during this pandemic, you are demonstrating care for our community. The fastest way to reopen our economy safely and return to a new normal is by covering your mouth and nose in public.”

“I offer to you that this is not a perfect resolution,” Dimitrijevic said at Monday's Common Council meeting. “It's a combination of public input, compromising and best practices.” She argued the risk of not passing the ordinance far outweighed any trade off.

“Did we do enough? We have Milwaukeeans who have died,” she said. “We could regret not doing enough, but I doubt that we would ever look back and say we regret requiring people to wear face masks.”

Ald. Mark Borkowski expressed concerns about some of the outdoor requirements of the ordinance, but said they were not enough for him to vote against the ordinance.

The council also unanimously passed a resolution establishing a program that will allow all city residents to receive a face mask for free by request. The specifics of that program have not been drafted yet.

The ordinances were approved after a week that saw the state continue to break new records for new COVID-19 cases. The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases hit an all-time high this weekend after 926 cases were reported on Saturday.