On the Mask Mandate: What’s Next?

With the Wisconsin Supreme Court striking down the statewide mask mandate, there is no longer one in place for the City of South Milwaukee.

But, as communities across the state grapple with “what’s next?” in light of the ruling, plenty of places will still require masks. That includes inside all City of South Milwaukee buildings and with all city employees, following an extension of our policy issued today and running through Wednesday, April 7, when the South Milwaukee Common Council will discuss this issue. The superintendent tells me the South Milwaukee School District will also keep its mask mandate in place, per school board policy, as will a number of local employers, I’m sure.

Good for them. Good for all us.

I disagree with the court decision, but at least welcome the clarity it brings, as the justices issued a ruling most were expecting months ago.

The timing is unfortunate. We are in the second year of the pandemic, and while there are lots of reasons for optimism, now is not the time to relax. Data shows this.

  • The state added 3,260 positive cases the week ending March 26. More than 300 new hospitalizations were reported, and 35 new deaths.
  • Milwaukee County added 753 new cases last week.
  • South Milwaukee added 16, after adding 20 the week prior, our two worst weeks in more than a month.

The Centers for Disease Control and other experts are warning of another surge. European countries are already seeing this, and variants are beginning to proliferate here, complicating the situation. 

Localized outbreaks remain a concern. Case in point: the South Milwaukee School District’s decision to return high school students to in-person learning for more than a week prior to this week’s Spring Break, as more than 100 students, staff and others were in quarantine due to nine positive cases or exposure to infected individuals (due to participation in an extracurricular activity).

Across the city, the disease burden rate is rising again, to 106.5 as of last week.

In other words, the threat is as real as ever, and we must do all we can to slow the spread and keep people safe as we continue to ramp up our vaccination program.

To me, that includes masks.

I support a local mask mandate — similar to the statewide mandate struck down on Wednesday — because a near consensus of experts say masks work.

Government institutions (CDC, etc.), health care providers, major medical organizations, local public health leaders … they say masks provide an added layer of safety, to be combined with the ones we’ve heard countless times: social distancing, avoiding crowds, practicing good hygiene, etc.

Masks should be part of the solution, as we get closer to normal. And we are getting closer to normal. I am thankful to see a light ahead, some real signs of hope.

Wisconsin is getting vaccinations in arms faster than any state in the country, and we’re doing our part locally, too, through our South Shore Vaccination Clinic at the former Cudahy K-Mart.

I offer my deepest thanks to all of the Cudahy, Oak Creek, South MIlwaukee and St. Francis health department workers, first responders, volunteers, and others who are stepping up to vaccinate hundreds of people daily. I have seen firsthand how well-run this facility is, and have heard many, many people express the same sentiment.

We can do even better, move even faster, with more doses allocated from the state. Milwaukee County lags other urban areas in vaccine distribution, and I still have concerns about shots not being adequately matched to willing providers and available arms, across the county, region and state. But that will improve, and we will get through this, together.

Now is not the time to relax. We have not beaten COVID-19. Yet. Until we do, please mask up.

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