Less than a week before Milwaukee's COVID-19 health order and mask ordinance are set to expire, members of the Common Council questioned the wisdom of the decision in light of lagging vaccination rates, especially among the city's Black residents.
"It, to me, just opens up the floodgates, particularly for the Black community here in Milwaukee," Ald. Milele Coggs said.
Mayor Tom Barrett and Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson announced last week that the city's health order would expire on June 1 instead of June 15, as had been previously announced. The city's mask ordinance is only in effect as long as the city's health order is in place, meaning the mask mandate will also end that day.
The announcement followed a change in guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said Americans who have been fully vaccinated may forgo masks and social distancing outside and in most indoor settings.
The shift at the city level caught members of the Common Council off guard, and on Wednesday they expressed frustration with what they said was a lack of communication from Barrett's administration before the announcement the order would be lifted.
But much of the conversation focused on the decision to lift the health order as vaccination rates in swaths of the city's north and northwest sides are well behind those of the city's overall rate of about 48.6% of residents having received a single dose.
In some census tracts, the percentage of residents who have received a first dose is in the 20s or 30s. The lowest, in the 53208 ZIP code, shows 20.7% of residents ages 16 and older have received a first dose.