'It's hard to run a business at 50%': Milwaukee bar owners disheartened by new COVID-19 restrictions

NOW: ’It’s hard to run a business at 50%’: Milwaukee bar owners disheartened by new COVID-19 restrictions

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A new wave of temporary restrictions on Milwaukee bars and restaurants has some owners asking whether they can continue to survive.

The Milwaukee Health Department's new revised public health order took effect on Thursday, Dec. 3 and goes until Jan. 15, 2021.

Ryan Steny, the owner Steny's Tavern and Grill, said his bar has been operating around 60 percent capacity. That, however, is now restricted to 50 percent.

"It's hard to run a business at 50 percent. Is it even worth it staying open at 50 percent? I can barely pay my employees right now," Steny said.

Under the new city order, the approximately 700 bars and restaurants with approved safety plans can't exceed more than half their capacity excluding employees. They previously could have more than that if they had proper social distancing.

Steny said he had to remove a few tables after the new restrictions went into effect. He currently is able to have a maximum of about 95 people, but that is now down to about 75 people.

"We've been doing everything they asked for how long now. We came up with these long health plans. It took us a month to write up," Steny said.

Restaurants without approved plans have to stick to 25 percent.

"We are doing our best to keep restaurants open. However, knowing what our disease burden is, knowing where we're headed in the next few months, we have to again, in some ways, double down," said Marlaina Jackson, interim commissioner of the Milwaukee Health Department, during a media briefing Thursday.

Kristine Hillmer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, said she appreciates the health department's cooperation, and she doesn't believe the order will have a huge effect on the industry in the city.

"There's very few (restaurants) that are even above 50 percent with the social distancing requirements so there's very few that have to substantially change what they're doing," Hillmer said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he believes a number of owners will do what they can to remain open.

"I don't anticipate a lot of backlash," Barrett said.

The temporary public health order also puts new restrictions on school and club team sports. They are only allowed to play and practice if they get approved safety plans, which would need to include routine testing.

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