Milwaukee committee hearing raises questions and concerns about ending health order

milwaukee covid-19
Posted at 5:07 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 19:07:21-04

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Common Council members said they were left out of discussions to let the "Moving Milwaukee Forward" health order expire June 1, which played a significant role in a special committee hearing on Wednesday.

"It was certainly surprising and disappointing that we had no idea that this was going to happen and what it was going to look like," said 14th District Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, chair of the Public Safety and Health Committee.

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Some of the concerns council members brought up centered around turning the dial backward if needed, how private businesses could enforce mask requirements, and on inequities for certain communities.

"Now we're going to take away the extra things, the requirements that aid in people potentially not contracting it. To me, it opens up the floodgates particularly for the black community," 6th District Alderwoman Milele Coggs.

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"Putting the genie back in the bottle in the fall may be a little harder, especially if you get people used to not having masks and not worrying about them. It may be a little harder than we think," said 13th District Alderman Scott Spiker.

Aaron Szopinski, the policy director from the mayor's office, acknowledged the communication issue and apologized.

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Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said she is comfortable with the move to let the health order expire, citing vaccine rates, declines in deaths and hospitalizations, as well as drops in disease transmission verified by testing the city's wastewater.

"I think that gives us this summer to get more vaccine into arms. I'm not concerned over what may occur over summer in terms of disease spread. I just want to note because we're expiring the health order, [that] does not mean we couldn't put it back in place if our numbers turn around in the fall," said Johnson. "If we're in a scenario that something occurs like it did last year, I would not hesitate to put another health order in place."

The health department reported 41.5 percent of Milwaukee residents are fully vaccinated, nearly 49 percent having at least a single dose. In a week nearly 9 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds were vaccinated.

However, committee members pointed out in areas like the 53208 zip code the vaccination rate is half that, at 20 percent.

More than 30 electronic public comments were submitted with mixed reactions.

"I definitely hear the concern for unvaccinated children. However, I'm confident in my ability to keep my children safe by employing skills we've learned over the last year," said business owner and parent Steve Hawthorne.

Hawthorne added that he and his wife are vaccinated and would get their kids vaccinated when authorized, pressing that allowing the health order to expire follows the science.

David Weingrod called lifting the mask mandate a mistake and said it would leave people feeling vulnerable indoors.

"We know that the virus is passed mostly indoors. We have no way to determine whether someone has been vaccinated or not vaccinated when you're indoors," David Weingrod said. "I have a 9-year-old grandson. I'm not sure if I should be taking him indoors at venues."

Milwaukee's health order is set to expire on June 1.

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