'What are we waiting for?': Teachers' union urges Milwaukee to reinstate mask mandate

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Calls for Milwaukee to reinstate its indoor mask mandate are getting louder. Some members of Common Council, the Milwaukee School Board and now the teachers' union are all pushing for the city to mask up again.

"I've made the request over and over and over again," said Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, who chairs the city's Public Safety and Health Committee.

For weeks, Dimitrijevic has called on the Milwaukee Health Department to reinstate its public health order. She said that would immediately put the indoor mask mandate back in place.

"What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for things to actually get worse? How do you get worse than extreme transmission for weeks?" she asked.

The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association held a news conference on Thursday, Sept. 9 asking for a citywide mandate.

"All that we see the city doing for the past two months is posting cute memes on social media reminding folks of the importance of universal masking, but doing nothing -- refusing to take any real action on their part to keep the people of this city safe," said Amy Mizialko, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association.

MPS announced Wednesday that Morse Middle School would move to a virtual flexible schedule for 10 days after three percent of school tested positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day period.

Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson told CBS 58 in a statement, in part: "The Milwaukee Health Department issued a mask advisory on July 29 and are currently heavily focused on vaccination as our way out of this pandemic."

Mizialko said the Milwaukee Health Department "buckled to the pressure of the business lobby while paying lip service to the safety needs of (Milwaukee Public Schools) students during the surge of the Delta variant." 

Business leaders said a citywide mask mandate isn't in everyone's best interests and instead, they want to focus on increasing vaccine rates.

"If the MTEA believes that a mask mandate is important, the appropriate people to approach are the school board and the administration of the Milwaukee Public Schools," said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

This comes as the Milwaukee School Board plans to vote Thursday night on a staff vaccine mandate.

"We want to make sure that anybody who is working in a school building with our students is vaccinated," said Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee School Board.

Peterson said the mandate would apply to nearly 10,000 MPS staff members. The proposal would give staff members a choice: get vaccinated or get a religious or medical exemption. If they do not do so by Nov. 1, they could face unpaid suspension or lose their jobs.

Mizialko said the union supports the proposal. She's also urging MPS to provide economic incentives to students and staff who show their vaccine cards.

Peterson said he would would like to see the city reinstate its indoor mask mandate to help keep families safe.

Here is Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson's full statement to CBS 58: 

"We must take a layered mitigation approach to protecting children, which includes vaccination, masking, physical distancing, and increased air ventilation. We are grateful and supportive of all the schools, including MPS, who implemented masking requires as mitigation measures. But we know that vaccination is the most effective step to minimize the spread of the virus and reduce critical illness and hospitalization. The City of Milwaukee has implemented a vaccination requirement for City employees and supports other businesses and organizations, such as Milwaukee Public Schools, doing the same. The Milwaukee Health Department issued a mask advisory on July 29 and are currently heavily focused on vaccination as our way out of this pandemic. It is time for us to come together as a community to keep everyone, especially our most vulnerable populations, safe and healthy, by getting vaccinated and wearing masks in public."

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