Why Some Milwaukeeans Are Still Wearing Masks Despite No Mandate

May 19, 2020

While there's no mandate, statewide or locally, requiring residents to wear face masks to protect against COVID-19, some Milwaukeeans have incorporated them into their daily lives.

On April 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended all Americans wear cloth face masks when entering public spaces. But since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been inconsistencies regarding who should be wearing face masks and how effective they are against the coronavirus. 

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To find out what Milwaukeeans think of wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, I walked around the east side (while social distancing) to find out:

Mitch Shiner

Mitch Shiner lives on the east side. He says he wears face masks to really protect others who are more vulnerable to the virus. The 28-year-old says he's usually pretty healthy, but he's been wearing a mask since the coronavirus outbreak began.

"I may or may not show any symptoms of this virus, so as a measure of respect for the other people who are going to be out, I just want to make sure I'm protecting them," Shiner says.

A discarded mask lay at the corner of a busy Milwaukee intersection.
Credit Teran Powell

Dustin Hennessey

Dustin Hennessey was wearing a mask when we spoke. If he's leaving his house, he says he always has a mask on. And, Hennessey thinks it's irresponsible that Wisconsin hasn't mandated residents to wear face masks. 

"It's very simple, every health professional has made it very clear: wear the mask. It’s keeping you and everybody else safe," he says. 

Credit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Penny Ziegler and Bonnie Abdella 

Penny Ziegler and Bonnie Abdella are neighbors who take frequent walks together but maintain social distance. Neither were wearing masks on the walk, but both say they mainly wear masks at the grocery store.

"I don’t go very many places. But if I go to the grocery store, of course, I’ve got it on, I've got my gloves on," Ziegler says. 

Ashuanta Bonds

Ashuanta Bonds says if it's a nice day out and she wants to go for a walk, she won't wear a mask but will social distance.

"I wear them mostly at work during my shift. I don’t like wearing them, but I do get the point of wearing them," Bonds says.

So, how, exactly, do masks protect people against the coronavirus? I spoke with Dr. Ben Weston, an assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, to find out.

Weston says the N95 masks have the highest level of protection. Then you have surgical masks, which have “pretty good” protection. Finally, he says cloth masks mainly protect the wearer from spreading anything to people around them. 

"When you're wearing a cloth mask, you should really act like you're not wearing a cloth mask. You should keep your 6-foot distance," he explains.

Weston says cloth masks do provide some added layer of protection for the people around you, but it's minimal. For example, he says cloth masks may give a false sense of safety for people in grocery stores who feel they can be closer to people because they're wearing a mask — and that's not the case.

As far as masks being required in the state, Weston says there could be advantages and potential disadvantages.

"A lot of people right now might feel silly wearing a mask in public. They might feel like people are going to look at them and assume they're infected," he says. "Requiring masks normalizes it so people who are nervous about doing it don't need to be nervous anymore. They can wear a mask because everyone around them is wearing a mask."

He says another benefit is the little bit of added protection.

The disadvantages, according to Weston, could be running out of masks for health care workers. Another issue could be equity. If there are mask requirements, some people may not be able to afford them, possibly making it harder for them to go out in public.

Weston says as more people start to go outside and interact with others, wearing a mask will hopefully decrease the spread of the virus.

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