Milwaukee’s Return to a ‘Version of Normal’ Moved Up Two Weeks

With new recommendations from the CDC, Milwaukee leaders have decided to lift many COVID-19 restrictions earlier than originally planned.

Face masks will no longer be required in Milwaukee as of June 1, when the city’s health order will be allowed to expire, Mayor Tom Barrett announced Tuesday. The city decided to move up the expiration date for the Moving Milwaukee Forward health order by two weeks.

Just last week, the city announced that the order would expire on June 15, but that mask wearing would continue to be enforced indoors and that the city would follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for outdoors. Hours later the CDC updated its guidance on masks, leading to discussions among Milwaukee’s health officials about the next steps to take.

Those discussions led to the decision to move up the expiration of the health order and with it put an end to the city’s mask mandate.

The city chose June 1 as the new expiration date for the order in an effort to give businesses, stores, schools and event spaces time to determine what steps they will take, including whether to establish their own mask requirements.

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“We all understand that people have very different perspective on this issue,” Barrett said. “Some feel very, very strongly that masks are still needed. Some feel very, very strongly that masks are unnecessary. I ask everyone to be respectful of the range of opinions. We need to remember that COVID-19 is still here.”

Barrett noted that the CDC’s announcement last week came as a surprise but stressed that the decision likely came as a result of mounting evidence of the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“The science shows us that fully vaccinated people are safe to be in public without wearing a mask,” Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said. “The evidence around this is indisputable. But I want to be very clear. Being unmasked indoors in public is for fully vaccinated individuals only.”

Unvaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks in public, Johnson stressed.

“With the expiration of the health order on June 1, vaccinations become even more important,” Johnson said.

For those that have not been vaccinated, Johnson noted that there is ample supply and several options for area residents to receive free vaccines.

“If you want to unmask, you must get your vaccine,” she said.



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.