11 Milwaukee County communities force bars and restaurants to go to delivery or take-out only

Harbor House, photo courtesy of The Bartolotta Restaurants

When bars and restaurants in 11 Milwaukee County municipalities closed on Monday and early Tuesday morning, it was the last time those businesses would be open for in-house service for the foreseeable future.

The 11 communities, including Milwaukee, South Milwaukee, St. Francis, Bayside, Brown Deer, Cudahy, Fox Point, Glendale, River Hills, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay, issued an emergency order late Monday restricting food and beverage sales to carry-out and delivery service starting at 2:01 a.m. on March 17 in effort to limit the spread of coronavirus or COVID-19.

A number of local restaurants had already transitioned to similar business models by yesterday or had plans to make changes. Local breweries, including Lakefront, Third Space and City Lights, had suspended tours and closed to the public. Good City Brewing had closed its downtown taproom near Fiserv Forum following the suspension of the NBA season. Broken Bat Brewing, which was in the process of transition to a new location, said on Twitter on Monday it had decided to close its Third Ward location for good. The last day had been scheduled for March 21.

In announcing the order, Milwaukee County executive Chris Abele’s office noted it was put in place ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, which usually attracts large groups to bars and restaurants.

“Participating in St. Patrick’s Day activities would make social distancing nearly impossible Social distancing is the paramount strategy for minimizing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, and Milwaukee County public health officials,” the press release said.

“Clear and bold actions are needed immediately to stop the spread of COVID-19 and strengthen public health in Milwaukee County, and that means closing our bars and restaurants for now,” the communities said in a statement. “This will be extremely difficult on the family-owned bars, local restaurants and small businesses that make Milwaukee County the best place to call home. We are in unprecedented times, and that calls for unprecedented actions.”

Municipalities not among those listed on the order included Wauwatosa, Franklin, Greenfield and Oak Creek. Several of those communities did have messages posted to their websites highlighting an order by Gov. Tony Evers from earlier Monday limiting mass gatherings to no more than 50 people and requiring restaurants and bars to limit capacity.

The Evers administration said the threshold was set based on guidance from the CDC that called for postponing or canceling large gatherings for eight weeks.

Also on Monday, the Trump administration issued guidelines telling people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people for the next 15 days.

The guidelines also said places that have community spread of the virus should close bars and restaurants.

According to the latest data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Milwaukee County has 13 cases of COVID-19, the most of any county in the state.

State officials also said Monday they believed Wisconsin had begun experiencing community spread of the virus.

The Milwaukee County order does included exemptions for food service in health care facilities and for weddings and funerals, although those gatherings would still be subject to Evers’ limit of 50 people.

The order also says lines for carry-out “must have an environment where patrons and staff maintain social distancing (six feet away from other people) whenever possible.”

The order does not specify a penalty for breaking the order. State law allows for up to 30 days in jail or a $500 fine for anyone “who willfully violates or obstructs” the execution of state or local ordinances or orders relating to public health.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He spent also five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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