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City of Milwaukee reinstating mask mandate without promise to enforce

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Surgical masks for protection against COVID-19.

The city of Milwaukee is restarting a mask mandate to run possibly as late as March 1. It will apply to anyone at least three years old and require masks to be worn inside public buildings.

The Common Council passed the plan Tuesday morning, amid concerns that it won't be enforced.

City Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson told news reporters Tuesday afternoon there won't be any fines for people who don't comply.

"We frankly, and I've said this repeatedly, the city of Milwaukee Health Department, we are really limited on our staff, much like health care. We're heavily focused on testing and vaccination efforts and so, at this time, we do not have the capacity to enforce it,” Johnson said. “We're going to be collecting information as calls come in, but that is the most we can do right now."

Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson said he'll be signing the mask requirement because it is not punitive and aims to educate. He said, "We should be sure we are educating folks about vaccines because while masking it great, we had an advisory in place and that is essentially what this is on paper. We should be pushing people towards education and vaccinations, vaccinations, vaccinations!"

Johnson said the Common Council could meet earlier than March 1 and end the mask mandate then.

But in the meantime, Tim Sheehy of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce said he's worried about the city possibly yanking the licenses of Milwaukee businesses that don't make their customers wear a mask. “Instead of a $500 or $5000 fine, based on some arbitrary finding by the council, you could have the license to operate your business revoked," he said.

The Milwaukee mask requirement exempts restaurant customers who are drinking or eating, athletes taking part in physical activities and performing artists.

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