City of Milwaukee easing COVID-19 restrictions beginning March 19

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The city of Milwaukee will ease COVID-19 restrictions starting on Friday, March 19. It will increase capacity at bars and restaurants, open museums and sporting events, and will allow visitors at long-term care facilities.

Significant changes in the current public health order will go into effect Friday, changes that relax some restrictions in the previous order.

The new Public Health Order Phase 6 supersedes Order #4.4 which was in place for the past six weeks.

“The Phase 6 order reflects several COVID-19 trends including the reduced presence of the disease in Milwaukee and the lower percentage of positive COVID-19 test results,” Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said. “While we are taking a step forward, we are doing that cautiously because COVID-19 is still a dangerous threat in our city.”

Restaurants and bars will see an increase in possible capacity and an easing of the restrictions on movement of patrons inside the establishment. While seating must be available and encouraged, it is no longer required unless a patron is eating or drinking.

“We wanna keep the momentum going in a positive direction,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. 

Wednesday marked one year since the city of Milwaukee shut down bars and restaurants, including Steny’s Tavern and Grill, but owner Ryan Steny says the easing of restrictions is solidifying that there is in fact light at the end of the tunnel.

“Telling people they couldn’t stand caused a lot of issues, a lot of arguments, having to kick people out just cause they refused to sit down,” said Steny. 

For Steny’s, March Madness is bigger than St. Patrick’s day, and the order comes just in time for Friday’s Wisconsin Badgers game.

“When your team scores or shoots a good three or just has a good play, you can finally stand and cheer,” Steny adds. 

Along with restrictions being eased for restaurants and bars, other businesses and facilities will also be impacted: 

  • Museums can be open with capacity limits and protective measures including masking.
  • Sporting events and recreational activities are now permitted to have up to six spectators per event participant with a limit of 750 fans indoors or 1,000 fans outdoors as long as physical distancing can be accommodated. An approved safety plan can allow larger crowds. 
  • The order no longer restricts visitors to long-term care facilities. 

Neighboring long-term care facilities like Congregational Home in Brookfield already started allowing visitors last week, but says seeing nearby communities like Milwaukee allow visitors again after a challenging year is a great sign. 

“When they see you and they can hug you—that expression is priceless, so just having all of the communities open up, it’s a sense of relief," said Catherine Solakian, admissions and marketing director for Congregational Home. 

“All those heartbreaking stories we see about grandma or grandpa not being able to talk to their grandkids in person, I’m hoping we’ll never see another one of those stories in our lives,” Mayor Tom Barrett said. 

The Milwaukee Health Department will continue to watch the data very closely as the community moves toward normalcy. 

“If we start to reverse course at any point, we will ramp those restrictions back up again and really try to assure we keep our community safe,” said Johnson. 

“Hopefully,  if the numbers stay low and we keep staying safe and being smart, that they keep easing stuff up little by little,” Steny adds. 

According to a news release from the Milwaukee Health Department, it is important to note that general provisions regarding safe business practices and protective measures remain in place. That includes masking, social distancing, surface cleaning, and policies to restrict employees who have been exposed to the disease or show COVID-19 symptoms. The Milwaukee Health Department will continue to enforce the order, and citations with potentially large fines will be issued for order violations.

The health department says data will be tracked over a span of 14 days before making a decision to continue moving forward or backward with restrictions. 

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