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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Aligning With CDC Guidance, City Of Milwaukee Recommends Mask-Wearing Indoors

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett
Emily Files
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett speaks at a press conference encouraging students and school staff to get vaccinated at back-to-school health fairs.

Updated Thursday 1:56 p.m. CDT

Thursday afternoon, the city of Milwaukee issued a new mask advisory that aligns with updated CDC guidance — recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors with people outside their household. City officials have not issued a mask mandate.

The CDC now recommends that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in places with moderate to high COVID transmission. That includes Milwaukee, which according to the CDC has "substantial" transmission.

Milwaukee officials are also pushing for residents to get vaccinated ahead of the new school year. At a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Tom Barrett referenced misinformation as an obstacle to boosting the city’s vaccination rate, which is currently around 50%.

"The earth is not flat and these are vaccines that have proven to be effective," he said. "And I can’t as mayor allow false statements to go unchallenged — the earth is not flat and the vaccine works."

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said the more contagious delta variant is driving up cases, especially in unvaccinated people. Johnson was emotional as she talked about a nursing home where all residents were vaccinated, but some staff were not.

Emily Files
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson speaks at press conference encouraging vaccination ahead of the new school year.

"And they had somebody who contracted the virus, was hospitalized and is unlikely to make it," Johnson said. "I can’t tell you how hard that is for me, and I might start crying, to hear that, because I was there when the first person died in Wisconsin at a nursing home in Ozaukee County. We cannot do this again. So please, please get vaccinated."

The Milwaukee Health Department is holding two back-to-school health fairs where vaccinations will be available for people ages 12 and up. The fairs will take place this Friday at Obama High School and next Friday at Southside Health Center. The COVID vaccines are currently not approved for children under 12.

The health department has also been hosting pop-up vaccine clinics at Milwaukee Public Schools locations this month. Spokesperson Emily Tau told WUWM that 72 people have received shots at those events.

"I don’t know what messages we’re left with," Johnson said. "We’ve said it from the beginning, masks work, and our way out of this is vaccination. We have got to get vaccinated. I don’t know how to make more of a plea, I don’t know what else to say. But I want my children safe when they go to school in the fall."

The CDC also changed its previous recommendation that only unvaccinated people need to wear masks in schools. It now recommends everyone in a school wear a mask. In Wisconsin, whether to follow that guidance is up to local school boards. Some, like Milwaukee Public Schools, will require face coverings this fall.

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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