Citizen Action of Wisconsin Supports Milwaukee Mask Ordinance

For Immediate Release–July 6, 2020

Media Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, robert.kraig@citizenactionwi.org

The public health measure is essential, but must also be equitably enforced

Milwaukee: With the COVID-19 pandemic dangerously accelerating, governments have a moral obligation to take every step necessary to save lives. In Wisconsin, due to the hyper partisanship of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court and the conservatives who control the State Legislature, the onus falls entirely to local units of government.

With COVID-19 cases accelerating, the proposed City of Milwaukee mask ordinance (MKE Cares) proposed by Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic is a great first step. It is scheduled to be considered this week. Public health experts now agree that wearing masks in public is one of the most important steps we can take to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, and yet public compliance is mixed at best. The Milwaukee proposal is modeled on the ordinances enacted by the Cities of Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Francisco.

In Milwaukee and in Wisconsin, the virus is again spreading at an alarming rate (see data below). There is also a critical racial equity element of the crisis, as COVID-19 continues to infect and kill people of color at shockingly disproportionate rates. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 24% of Wisconsin COVID-19 deaths have been to African Americans, and 30% of the people infected have been Latinx.

While racial equity demands bold action to contain the spread of the virus, there are major equity concerns related to enforcement and access to face masks that must also be addressed. A shocking report by Wisconsin Watch documents massive racial and ethnic disparities in arrests related to the now expired stay at home order. A stunning 77% of arrest were of African Americans, 22% were of Latinx, and only 6% were of white. The city map produced by the investigative journalism outfit shows that arrests were highly concentrated in African American and Latinx neighborhoods. Another concern being raised is access to masks for low-income Milwaukeeans. Citizen Action urges the Common Council to address both concerns by holding Milwaukee police strictly accountable for racially biased enforcement, and providing face masks to Milwaukeeans who cannot afford them.

By the Numbers: The Milwaukee COVID-19 Crisis is Growing Worse

The Milwaukee Health Department reported Friday that COVID 19 testing positivity rates have skyrocketed to 12.2%, a dangerously high number that rivals some of the most impacted southern states. Georgia has a 13.1% positive test rate and Alabama, has a 13.6% positive test rate. In Alabama many cities have already enacted mask ordinances. In addition, Milwaukee’s critically important reproduction rate R0 (also called infection rate) has risen to 1.07. (The number of additional persons each COVID positive person infects). According to academic public health experts a reproduction rate over 1 means the pandemic is growing and will over time overwhelm local hospitals. Many of the countries who have been most effective in controlling the pandemic are shutting down regions with reproduction rates over 1.

“We applaud Alderwoman Dimitrijevic for introducing this lifesaving ordinance,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “While our top priority must be a pandemic which is infecting and killing very unequally, it is also important that public health standards be enforced fairly and equally. We therefore also urge City of Milwaukee leadership to ensure equitable enforcement of the measure, and provide masks to those who cannot afford them, so that we do not exacerbate already severe racial disparities in Milwaukee.”

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