City of Milwaukee to end COVID-19 restrictions June 1

NOW: City of Milwaukee to end COVID-19 restrictions June 1

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on Tuesday, May 18, announced the city will end its COVID-19 restrictions beginning June 1. This includes removing the mask mandate and lifting capacity limits.

Barrett said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announcement last week came as a surprise, and the city wants to give businesses 14 days to make adjustments before the mask mandate is gone. He said he's honoring his pledge to follow the science. 

"When the Centers for Disease Control announced that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks, I felt, as did the health commissioner, that just as we have at every critical point along the way followed the CDC guidance, we would continue to follow the CDC guidance," Barrett said.

This announcement leaves Milwaukee business owners about two weeks to decide whether they’d want to continue enforcing mask-wearing and distancing for their customers and staff after June 1.

“Very difficult to have a mask mandate or order that is only for individuals who are unvaccinated, it’s really just put us in a position where we’ve had to make the best decision we can,” said Kirsten Johnson, Milwaukee’s health commissioner.

Executive director of the Milwaukee Public Market, Paul Schwartz, tells CBS 58 they are taking time to coordinate with vendors and plan for next steps on their mask policy, but a decision won’t come immediately.

“I anticipate that all businesses pretty much know their customer base,” said Mayor Barrett. “They know the individuals who come to visit them and they will make a decision that they think is from a health perspective hopefully, and obviously from a business perspective, what makes the most sense.”

Owner of Thief Wine in the Milwaukee Public Market, Phil Bilodeau, says while he understands everyone is eager to get back to normal, his priority is the safety of his staff and customers.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a zero to 100,” says Bilodeau. “I don’t think it should just be like ‘hey we’re back to everything’s normal,’ like no, we can’t be all loosey goosey, it’s you’ve got to still be safe.”

“I want to be very clear, being unmasked indoors in public is for fully vaccinated individuals only,” said Johnson.  

CDC guidance says unvaccinated people should wear a mask. Johnson says it’s hard to know who is and isn’t vaccinated, and after June 1, it’s really an honor system.

“We are trusting individuals and residents in the city of Milwaukee to be honest and to wear a mask if they are unvaccinated,” she adds.

Bilodeau says enforcement moving forward could be difficult. City leaders ask patrons to be respectful to each business’ decision.

“One of the challenges for a small business owner, especially in an environment like this, is like making everyone be like a cop, you know, kind of thing,” Bilodeau said. “Now we’re adding one more thing that our staff has to do.”

“What I’m asking is people be respectful of other individuals and the decision they make,” Mayor Barrett says.

Johnson says with the health order expiring in two weeks, it’s even more crucial people who are unvaccinated get the COVID-19 vaccine.


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