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Milwaukee, Other Southeastern Wisconsin Communities Move Up End Date Of Mask Requirements

La Fuente restaurant in Milwaukee
Chuck Quirmbach
La Fuente, located at 92nd & Bluemound Road, is one of many Milwaukee restaurants that could be affected by the city's new June 1 end date for its mask requirement.

More southeastern Wisconsin communities are announcing an earlier end to their face mask requirements for COVID-19. Milwaukee says it's halting its order June 1, instead of the June 15 date set last week. But some local venues may still keep requiring masks.

Last week, the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made the surprise announcement that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors, except in certain locations like on public buses and airplanes.

That's set off a scramble for local governments. For example, on Monday night village boards in Whitefish Bay and Shorewood voted to either end mask ordinances or not renew them. Tuesday night in Wauwatosa, the Common Council approved allowing fully vaccinated people to resume most indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask. But the council made it clear that businesses and other property owners can set their own rules for mask wearing.

As of Tuesday evening, May 18, La Fuente still had a sign on the front door, asking patrons to wear a mask.
Chuck Quirmbach
As of Tuesday evening, May 18, La Fuente still had a sign on the front door, asking patrons to wear a mask.

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said by moving her city's mask and health order end date from June 15 to June 1, Milwaukee is following the CDC's guidance but expanding it to everyone by necessity.

"I am very confident the CDC's science, that they made their informed decision on, around individuals who are vaccinated without a mask on, makes it very difficult to have a mask mandate or order that is only for individuals who are unvaccinated. It's put us in a position where we've had to make the best decision we can for our community and city and are very hopeful this incentivizes people who are unvaccinated to get vaccinated," Johnson told the news media Tuesday afternoon.

Johnson acknowledged the city won't be able to determine if individuals who are going into a bar or other public space without a mask have been immunized.

"And therein lies the challenge that we're faced it. There's no way for us to know... We are trusting individuals, residents of the city of Milwaukee to be honest and wear a mask if they are unvaccinated," she said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said his city's mandate is not ending immediately, in order to give local businesses or other venues time to decide their next step.

"Individual locations such as businesses, schools, stores and event spaces can continue to establish their own masking requirements. So, we are offering this upcoming 13-day period so they can determine what's right for them. These businesses, these establishments, they know their client base, their customer base, their user base better than anyone," Barrett said.

The vaccination clinic at the Wisconsin Center remains open until May 28.
Chuck Quirmbach
The vaccination clinic at the Wisconsin Center remains open until May 28.

In the meantime, Barrett said he's not giving up on getting more people vaccinated against COVID-19. The Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee remains open for shots for about 10 more days. Community health clinics on the northwest and south sides offer the vaccine. Three city libraries — Zablocki, Washington Park and Mitchell Street — are offering walk-in vaccinations for part of this week.

The mayor also said five Milwaukee Public Schools — Morse Middle School, Rogers Street Academy, Roosevelt Middle School, North Division High School and South Division High School — are also now offering vaccination clinics on select days.

"These clinics will help us vaccinate the newly-eligible 12- to 15-year-olds, but will also be open to all members of the public. And, it's our hope that the young people will bring their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles to get the vaccinations as well," Barrett said.

He said a few Milwaukee churches will offer shots this coming weekend.

The large health care company Advocate Aurora also announced Tuesday that several of its Milwaukee-area vaccine clinics accept walk-ins, including at St. Luke's Medical Center.

Dr. Ben Weston speaks to news reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Dr. Ben Weston speaks to news reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Ben Weston of the Medical College of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management said vaccinations remain important because the coronavirus is still around. He said the county is averaging about 77 new COVID-19 cases a day, and one death about every three days.

Weston also recommended local ordinance or not to keep wearing a mask in certain situations. "Particularly in public, more crowded indoor situations, where you're not able to tell who's vaccinated, and who is not, is still the safest practice. Doing otherwise can make these situations less safe for many groups," he said.

Weston said the risk increases if you have children not yet eligible for the vaccine along at those venues. "Particularly young children, who also may not be able to mask; people who are immunocompromised and the small but very real subset of people who may not be able to get vaccinated, such as those undergoing certain cancer treatments," he warned.

Weston said only 43% of Milwaukee County residents have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. State figures show Ozaukee County leads the area at 53%.

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