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As The End Of Milwaukee's Mask Mandate Nears, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Answers Questions

Jack Hurbanis
Come June 1, there will no longer be a Milwaukee health order mandating masks in public.

The Milwaukee Health Department is rescinding its mask mandate June 1, which leaves people with a of questions. Does this mean masks are no longer required? Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson says, "No."

"In no way shape or form had I ever said or thought that individuals who are unvaccinated should be unmasked," Johnson said.

Johnson’s stance is in line with CDC guidance that people who are unvaccinated should be masked when indoors and when in public. But then that brings up the question of enforcement — how can the city enforce that people who are not vaccinated wear masks? Johnson, who testified before the Milwaukee's Public Safety and Health Committee Wednesday, said it's practically impossible.

"There is no way to enforce the current mass ordinance against an unmasked individual and no way to ask them whether or not they're vaccinated or unvaccinated. The current ordinance is written specifically to businesses — so the business was not enforcing the mass ordinance, we could fine or a write a citation to a business," she said.

What Johnson is saying is that even with the current mask mandate, the ability to enforce any mask guidelines has always fallen squarely on the shoulders of private businesses. With the order being rescinded, it’s still the responsibility and now discretion of the business whether patrons should be using masks.

"It's the same as no shoes, no shirt, no service, they can say no mask and no service," Aaron Szopinski said. He's policy director for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

But without businesses facing repercussions from the city for not mandating a mask, it is unclear if businesses will be enforcing the use of masks at their establishments. Alderwoman Milele Coggs voiced her skepticism that businesses would actually have an incentive to require their patrons to wear a mask.

Health commissioner Johnson said that she would consider reinstating a health order if she sees a sustained increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Angelina Mosher Salazar joined WUWM in 2018 as the Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She was then a reporter with the station until 2021.
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