Health department to restrict public gatherings as some bars and restaurants 'continue to act recklessly'

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee's health department is putting more limits on public gatherings later this week in an effort to control the increasing case numbers and high testing positivity rate.

The city's new Phase 4.2 version of the Moving Milwaukee Forward Safely Order goes into effect on Thursday. It restricts how many people will be allowed at certain kinds of events:

  • Indoor events will be restricted to 10 people excluding employees.
  • Outdoor events will be restricted to 25 people.
  • Religious and political events will be restricted to 100 people.

Marlaina Jackson, interim health commissioner for the city of Milwaukee, said the health department's strict regulations early on have put the city in a better position than many other jurisdictions, but their efforts weren't enough. 

"This (new order) is not punitive. This is to protect individuals. It is to save lives and we have to do it together as a community," Jackson said.

Omar Shaikh, co-owner of Carnevor, said masks and socially-distanced seating are givens at his restaurant, but that's not the case everywhere.

"I think the city's starting to figure out who's applying to the rules and who isn't. There's a lot of great places that are really running the places the way they should, but there are some out there who aren't," Shaikh said.

Jackson said they are fully aware of this. The health department will no longer give out warnings to business owners who break the rules. Instead, they will now be given a citation for the first offense.

"We also know that there are a number of bars and restaurants that continue to act recklessly, to be very honest, and allow patrons to be in their spaces without masks, to not social distance. And so, to the extent that we can in our order decrease that congregation and decrease that gathering, that we will do that," Jackson said.

Bars and restaurants without approved COVID-19 safety plans will have to cap their capacity at 25 percent. That will apply to about 600 establishments. The health department said about 400 establishments have submitted plans but are still awaiting approval, while an estimated 200 have not submitted a plan at all.

Carnevor is one of 537 establishments in the city with an approved plan. Shaikh hopes other business owners will join him.

"I do know the city is getting a lot more serious about people not really taking it seriously. We want to keep our numbers low and beat this virus," he said.

The order also requires customers to be seated at all times except when entering or exiting, and prohibits dance floors.

Team sports are now limited to playing their own squads or schools unless there have an approved COVID-19 safety plan in place. Team members will have to be tested once every three days. 

The new order may put some games later this week into question. City leaders said games may have to be relocated or postponed.

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