Updated at 5:13 p.m. CT
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has rolled out a statewide mask requirement for indoor public spaces to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the city of Milwaukee also is taking new steps aimed at fighting COVID-19.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik says the changes are part of Phase 4 of the city’s plans to move forward safely in the era of the coronavirus. In a media briefing earlier this week, she said the new rules could introduce a requirement for face masks in bars and restaurants as well as in schools.
“[Phase] 4.1 is going to address Milwaukee Cares ... The Phase 4 order does not address the mask requirement, it says masks are recommended,” Kowalik explains.
Currently, Kowalik says the city is getting too many complaints from restaurant customers regarding inadequate and improper mask and safety practices. In some cases, she says warnings haven’t worked, so citations have been needed.
“There is one situation where the owner will be cited because of repeated conversations. You know, it's just like any other situation, you know, you give a little grace at first, the limit is pushed, push, push, there's no change in behavior, then we move on to issuing citations,” says Kowalik.
Phase 4.1 requires all bars and restaurants — even if they only have outdoor dining — to submit detailed plans for maintaining safe practices. The plans must be submitted by Sept. 15.
“We have had this resource available for quite some time and there have been a lot of takers. So I highly recommend you if you have a bar or restaurant, to submit your COVID safety plan. Once that date hits, you're not gonna be able to serve indoors unless you have that approved plan,” says Kowalik.
The health department will hold a virtual workshop on Aug. 6 to help bar and restaurant owners write COVID-19 safety plans.
For restaurants, a mask mandate can be a burden. Kowalik says she gets questions from owners wondering about usage.
Daniel Jacobs, owner of the restaurant dandan and co-founder of the Milwaukee Independent Restaurant Coalition, told WUWM’s Lake Effect that face masks can be a burden for restaurants at a time when business is low.
“[Personal protective equipment] is nice, but it doesn't really work real well for restaurants and bars. Using 60% of it on your payroll when you're not bringing anybody in or doing anything doesn't make sense,” Jacobs says.
However, Jacobs is not opposed to PPE in restaurants. His stance is similar to Kowaliks, who says while mask requirements and other rules may seem burdensome, they’re necessary because COVID-19 impacts everyone.
“It's not just a school issue. It's not just a child care issue. It's not just a bar or restaurant issue. It's impacting all sectors, all people, regardless of whether you believe this is a real thing or not, whether you believe we're overreacting or not. Whether you believe we're doing a great job or not, it's hitting everyone in some way, shape or form,” says Kowalik.
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