Showing impatience and frustration with the enduring COVID-19 pandemic, more Milwaukee businesses are ignoring regulations aimed at controlling the spread of the disease.
The city issued 32 citations last weekend alone for mask wearing and social distancing violations.
“We are coming upon the year mark of COVID-19 in our community and we are definitely starting to see signs of COVID precaution fatigue,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. “That’s not good because we know that there could be another spike.”
The citations come as the Health Department once again stepped up its enforcement efforts and is a sign that “we are not taking our foot off the gas as it pertains to enforcement,” Barrett said.
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Businesses that violate the city’s COVID-19 orders can face fines ranging from $500 to $5,000. Violators can lose the ability to have their capacity limits increased and could have their licenses revoked.
The citations, which is double the number that has been issued at any point in the past, comes as individuals and businesses are tending to ease up on regular mitigation efforts, including social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing,” interim health commissioner Marlaina Jackson said.
The majority of citations involved violations of mask wearing and social distancing requirement, not capacity issues, Jackson said.
“Understand that those mitigations steps are necessary for us to continue to have low trend numbers but it’s also necessary to keep our orders where they are,” Jackson said. “If we see that individuals or establishments cannot abide by safety plans, it makes it very difficult to put orders in place that allow for additional capacity and less mitigation when we know there are new COVID strains.”
Jackson announced that the first case of the more contagious UK COVID-19 variant, known as B117, has been detected in Milwaukee. The case was reported on Jan. 28 but not announced until Tuesday’s virtual press briefing.
“We have to continue to be very mindful and very aware of new variants that are out there,” Jackson said.
Health officials had anticipated that the UK variant would eventually reach Southeastern Wisconsin, she added.
Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services at the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, issued a warning about the presence of the COVID-19 variant.
The number of people infected with the UK variant is doubling in the United States every 10 days, Weston said.
“What we are seeing in the European countries is that once the strains begin to spread more widely, they take about one month to become the overwhelmingly dominant strain,” Weston said. “And being more transmissible, that means more cases, and being more severe, that means more hospitalizations and more deaths. There’s little doubt that this is the direction we are heading.”
However, steps can be taken to fight the variant, he noted.
“We can blunt this coming spike,” Weston said. “It can certainly be softened through vaccination efforts and can be blunted through personal precautions.”
He stressed the importance of getting vaccinated as soon as possible, when eligible.
The city has plans to vaccinate more than 5,000 people this week with first and second doses of the vaccine.