Milwaukee limits gatherings, restaurants, bars with new COVID restrictions

Public gatherings limits reduced to 25%

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The City of Milwaukee Health Department issued a new health order Monday afternoon that further restricts public gatherings, restaurants and bars, and school sports as positive COVID-19 cases spike locally and across the state.

Under the new order, which goes into effect Thursday, public gatherings are limited to 25% of the site’s capacity, or a maximum of 10 people at an indoor event and a maximum of 25 people at an outdoor event, excluding employees. Religious and political gatherings are capped at 100 people.

Restaurants and bars without approved COVID-19 safety plans are also required to limit both indoor and outdoor capacity to 25%.

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The order emphasizes a seating requirement for both public gatherings and bar-restaurant establishments. Seating must be provided for all attendees or patrons, who must remain seated except when arriving, departing and using the restroom. As a result, dance floors are prohibited.

As of Oct. 23, the Health Department had received 981 plans and approved 537, with the remainder under review.

Since July, all bars and restaurants have been required to submit a COVID-19 safety plan and checklist to continue on-premise service at any capacity, and for some, depending on the business and safety plan, with no capacity limits at all. The checklist requires businesses to implement hygiene, cleaning, and protective measures, including proper social distancing and face masks. 

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The new order calls for “continued compliance” of the safety plan to continue operating without the 25% capacity limit.

Additionally, team sports are restricted to intra-squad or intra-school events unless a Milwaukee Health Department-approved safety plan is in place. A safety plan requires COVID-19 testing at least once every three days. If a plan has been previously submitted, it must be resubmitted with details related to the testing procedures.

“As we evaluate the metrics the Milwaukee Health Department monitors, it is clear we have entered a more dangerous period of COVID-19 infections,” said Marlaina Jackson, Milwaukee’s interim health commissioner.

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Statewide, the 7-day average of new cases has surged in recent weeks peaking 4,050 on Saturday. A month earlier the average was at 1,939 and it was below 1,000 in August.

The city of Milwaukee has seen a similar trend, reaching an average of 300 new cases per day last week, compared to around 150 a month earlier.

“It is important that we take additional steps to protect the people of Milwaukee,” said Jackson. “Our goal is to get the indicators and gating criteria to head back in the right direction so we can move forward with reopening and moving Milwaukee forward.”

Milwaukee’s new order announcement comes just days after a statewide capacity limit on gatherings was temporarily put on hold for a second time. That order, originally set in in place Oct. 8 through Nov. 6, limited public indoor gatherings to no more than 25% of a building’s total occupancy at any publicly accessible gathering area, such as stores, ticketed events, and bars and restaurants.

An appeals court temporarily suspended the order on Friday, even after the order was reinstated earlier in the week following the Tavern League‘s efforts to block it.

Soon after the Evers originally issued the order, the City of Milwaukee Health Department said it will continue to enforce its own Moving Milwaukee Forward Safely Order “as written.” After reviewing the city’s and the state’s orders, Milwaukee DHS determined that its local order was more restrictive than the state’s and that it wouldn’t enforce the 25% capacity on bars and restaurants with approved safety plans.

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