CITY OF MILWAUKEE — Face masks will no longer be required in the City of Milwaukee when the city's health order is allowed to expire on June 1, Mayor Tom Barrett announced Tuesday.
The mayor explained during a press briefing that the city is now moving up the expiration date for the Moving Milwaukee Forwardhealth order by two weeks. The city announced last week - hours before the Centers for Disease Control updated their guidance on masks - that the Moving Milwaukee Forward order would expire on June 15, but with the mask mandate still in place.
The expiring health order also means there will be no reduced capacity limits required at businesses and establishments within the city.
- Previous coverage: Local communities discuss mask mandates, some let mandates expire
The CDC determined last Thursday that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, besides some exceptions. Those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 should still wear masks, the CDC ruled in an announcement that came as a surprise to many municipalities, including Milwaukee.
Mayor Barrett explained Tuesday that the CDC's announcement spurred the city into rethinking its COVID-19 response. "That's when we started the process of implementing expert advice to determine how the City of Milwaukee will move forward," the mayor said.
Barrett said the city has followed CDC guidance from the onset of the pandemic, including recommendations on social distancing, mask-wearing, testing and then vaccines. Now the city is following the center in its recommendation to start to return life to normal.
"I want to put a big exclamation point, an emphasis point, on this," Barrett said. "From the outset, I have been very, very proud and I have pledged to follow the science and the evidence. For 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've had with every critical point along the way follow the CDC's guidance, we would continue to follow the CDC guidance."
That doesn't mean that come June 1, there will no longer be any sort of mask requirements. Barrett also emphasized that businesses and other establishments can still require people to wear masks indoors.
"These businesses, these establishments, they know their client base, their customer base, their user base, better than anyone," the mayor said.
The mayor acknowledged that required mask-wearing is still a divisive issue.
"I ask everyone to be respectful of the range of opinions and the circumstances that exist," he said. "But we need to remember that COVID-19 is still here, and if there is one message that we have gotten over the last week, it is how powerful and effective the vaccinations have been."
City officials, including Mayor Barrett on Tuesday, have continued to urge residents to get vaccinated. Barrett said there are still many people not vaccinated in the city, for a variety of reasons: politics, transportation, work-related issues, among others.
In Milwaukee County, about 43 percent of residents are partially vaccinated, and about 36 percent are fully vaccinated, data from the Department of Health Services shows.
Read the city health department's explanation of the change in orders below: