MILWAUKEE – * Check out Charles Benson’s full story on the TMJ4 news at 6 p.m. *
As March 2020 rolled around, Mayor Barrett had a lot to expect.
Milwaukee was preparing for 50,000 summer visitors to the Democratic National Convention.
But the mayor had something else on his mind, and it wasn’t the virus yet.
“I remember a press conference about the regular flu,” Barrett said.
Flu cases continued, but a much greater concern emerged in Seattle, Washington, with coronavirus cases emerging and people dying.
The mayor knew it would only be a matter of time before COVID-19 got here.
“Perhaps, appropriately, it was March 13th, Friday March 13th, when we had our first case,” said Mayor Barrett. “And I thought OK, that’s a problem.”
Nobody knew yet how big the problem was. The mayor convened a group of hospital administrators, health professionals and community clinics to discuss the impending crisis.
“One person in that meeting was really outstanding and that was Dr. John Raymond of Medical College. I was amazed at how seriously he took this at that second,” said Barrett.
Dr. Raymond would Dr. Become Fauci from Milwaukee, the point of contact for all pandemics. “”
“Even in this room, he said we shouldn’t sit so close together, we shouldn’t do that,” Barrett said. “And I thought, wow, wow!”
It was the first conversation we’d have about what we would all come to know as the importance of social distancing.
Benson: When, Mayor, do you think, “I have difficult choices to make now, and not everyone will like the choices I’m about to make?”
Mayor Barrett: This weekend I can remember the conversation I had with our chief librarian Paula Kiely, who has since retired.
The conversation revolved around closings and took place across town.
“I think I don’t want the libraries to be closed for two weeks because it could be three or four weeks. I never thought it would be a year,” Barrett said.
There would be more closings as the economic and emotional hardship deepened.
Benson: Was there a decision that was the most difficult?
mayor: I would say the first time we said that the bars and restaurants have to be closed because it was basically unprecedented in my career to say that we are closing everything. It was the right decision, no doubt, it was the right decision.
Not only did COVID-19 change the way everyone lives in mid-March, it hit color communities at an alarming rate.
“One of the main points when I first saw the numbers, and the first numbers came from a neighbor in Sherman Park – where I saw that this was having an incredibly disproportionate impact on African Americans at the time,” Barrett said.
The differences were not new to a city that a year earlier had declared racism a public health crisis.
“I think that was another scout,” said Barrett. “We have to make sure that we are providing the resources to the populations that are most disproportionately affected and still exist today. We have problems with vaccinations.”
With the vaccinations, Barrett is hoping that normalcy will return if we chat outside town hall on a fine spring-like day. The 67-year-old mayor qualified for the shots and is now fully vaccinated.
“The sun is shining, I’m an optimist by nature – we’ll get through this.”
TMJ4 looked at the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Milwaukee compared to other cities in the Midwest.
Milwaukee, with a total population of 590,000 people, had an average of more than 10,000 cases and 100 deaths per 100,000 population.
St. Louis is a city of 300,000 people with an average of less than 7,000 cases and 140 deaths per 100,000 people.
Kansas City has approximately 500,000 residents and an average of 7,600 cases with 111 deaths compared.
Cincinnati, with 300,000 people, had an average of just over 8,000 cases and less than 100 deaths per 100,000 people.