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Milwaukee Leaders Search For Ways To Slow Spread of COVID-19, Consider Raising Business Fines

Michelle Maternowski
A sign along North Avenue in Wauwatosa reads "Distancing Wisconsin Style One Cow Length."


Milwaukee County leaders are struggling with ways to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. 

There have been over 53,000 cases here since the start of the pandemic. Like across the state, there’s been a surge since September. Earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers implemented stay-at-home orders that were ultimately done away with by the state Supreme Court. Since then, businesses across the state have been opening, which some health officials say is contributing to the spread. 

Darren Rausch is with the Greenfield Health Department. He spoke at a media update Thursday.

“The hotspots seem to be places where people gather, which isn’t surprising.  So we think of restaurants, we think of bars, we think of gyms as spots where a lot of spread is happening,” Rausch said.

Wisconsin has a statewide mask mandate for the indoors and enclosed spaces, although it’s being challenged in court. The city of Milwaukee requires masks to be worn in public spaces. Businesses can be fined up to $500 for not enforcing the mandate. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said that number needs to be higher. 

“I support raising the fine. I think we have to send a message because the next step other than raising fines is closing establishments. And I think for those individuals and those businesses that are not following the rules right now they may make it worse for themselves, but they make it worse for everyone else. So we are looking for compliance, that’s what we’re looking for,” Barrett said.

Some members of the Milwaukee Common Council Thursday did approve a measure that would raise fines from $500 to up to $5,000. The city’s health department is responsible for issuing the citations but because it’s short-staffed, enforcement is difficult. Barrett said what he really wants is to see is state lawmakers get involved. 

“We should have a special session of the Wisconsin State Legislature to decide what steps are needed in areas like mask wearing, like stay-at-home orders because what has happened over the last seven months is that the Legislature, the Republicans in the Legislature have decided that the best course of action is to do absolutely nothing,” Barrett said.

Barrett said doing nothing has been disastrous. On Thursday, the state hit another record high for positive coronavirus tests. There were nearly 7,500 cases reported in one day.

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