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Here's everything you need to know about Milwaukee's new mask ordinance

Milwaukee's new mandatory mask ordinance could help the city tame its recent surge in COVID-19 cases. On Monday, the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously passed the ordinance, joining hundreds of cities and states that have passed similar ordinances. Mayor Tom Barrett signed it into law on Tuesday.

Under the law, which goes into effect today, 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 allows certain health and religious exemptions.

We've answered all your questions about the law below.

How will the law be enforced?

Businesses will be responsible for compliance from their customers and employees. 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.

Can individuals be fined?

The law does not outline any penalties for individuals who disobey the order.

How long will the law be in effect?

Indefinitely. Alders expect the law to remain in effect for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

Does the law apply to outdoor patios?

Yes. The law mandates face coverings in any outdoor area where it is not possible to keep six feet apart from others.

Does the law apply to the police?

Yes, it applies to all city employees. Earlier this week Mayor Barrett said that he will talk to the Milwaukee Police Department about complaints that officers have been seen interacting with the public without wearing a mask. In a statement to Fox 6, a representative of the department wrote, "All MPD sworn members are required to wear a mask when outside of their department vehicle and when interacting with members of the public."

Does the law apply to protesters.


Who is exempt from the law?

The ordinance allows exemptions for certain mental health conditions and any disability or medical conditions in which the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention advises that a face covering should not be worn. It also allows exemptions for those with upper-respiratory conditions and silent or invisible disabilities, as well as those communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing. The full list of exemptions can be found here.

Can I get a free mask?

Yes. On Monday the Milwaukee Common Council also passed an ordinance that will create a program to give free mask to any resident who requests one. That program is still weeks away from being implemented, but in the meantime these Milwaukee Health Department locations are distributing free masks:

  • Zeidler Municipal Building - 841 N. Broadway
  • Keenan Health Clinic - 3200 N. 36th Street
  • Northwest Health Center - 7630 W. Mill Road
  • Southside Health Center - 1639 S. 23rd Street

How effective are masks anyway?

Very. While masks do not completely reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, studies have shown that they cut the risk considerably. There is now a consensus among health experts that widespread mask usage represents our country's best chance to limit the spread of the coronavirus and prevent a return to the sort of lockdowns we saw this spring. Yesterday the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the coronavirus surge could be controlled in 4-8 weeks if everyone were diligent about wearing a mask.

Are some masks more effective than others?

Yes. There is some debate about the merits of some masks over others, but in general wearing any mask is always preferable to wearing no mask at all.

Why isn't there a statewide mask requirement?

That's a great question to ask your representatives in the Wisconsin State Legislature. More than 25 states now have mask requirements, including Alabama, California, Michigan, Illinois, New York, Kansas and Kentucky.