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Some Milwaukee restaurants may soon fully reopen dining rooms

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MILWAUKEE(CBS 58) -- Some Milwaukee restaurants may soon be able to fully reopen their dining rooms to 100-percent capacity under a pilot program by the city’s health department. The health department says the pilot only applies to restaurants, and not bars.

Restaurants have to first submit a COVID-19 safety plan to the health department before getting a seal of approval to fully reopen their dining rooms.

“We’re working on developing instructions how to do this, so a template and then also an example of a complete mitigation plan,” says Jeanette Kowalik, Milwaukee’s Health Commissioner.

Co-owner of Casablanca restaurant on Brady Street, Nas Musa, says he plans on taking advantage of the pilot program.

Right now Milwaukee restaurants are only allowed to operate dining rooms at 25-percent capacity as part of the city's phase three reopening plan announced on June 5.

“We’ll definitely be able to take larger parties, and definitely be able to hire more staff on. We did have to make a lot of cuts because of the capacity issue, but I’m definitely excited and we definitely need it,” said Musa.

Kowalik says the health department will also be educating the community on COVID-19 risks related to being less than six feet apart. While health officials say the county is moving in the right direction, people still have to remain vigilant.

“We definitely don’t want to encounter another surge looking at other places in the country and what they’re grappling with,” adds Kowalik.

“COVID-19 is still with us and as with past pandemics, it’s likely the resurgence of a disease will likely come,” said Dr. Ben Weston, Medical Director for Milwaukee County’s Office of Emergency Management.

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association says they’re working with the Milwaukee Health Department in finalizing plans for the program.

They say in a statement:

"The Wisconsin Restaurant Association looks forward to our continued dialogue with the Milwaukee Public Health Department on ways for restaurants to open safely and soon. We don't have the details on this plan quite yet, but we are encouraged with the dialogue that has and is taking place. Nothing is more important for our restaurateurs to find a way to open in a way that keeps their employees and customers safe while resuming operations in the city."

The Milwaukee Health Department says restaurants who don’t want to participate don’t have to and can wait until phase four or five of the city’s reopening plan.

COVID-19 safety plans submitted by restaurants are expected to take up to seven business days for approval.

“There’s going to be a lag in getting it back because we want to make sure it’s on point and be able to give some constructive feedback in order to make your plan more robust and realistic,” said Kowalik.

Kowalik says the pilot program will begin on Friday, June 26 and take effect Friday, July 3.

To submit your restaurant’s safety plan to the Milwaukee Health Department, send an email with the name of your restaurant and “COVID-19 Risk Plan” in the subject line to cehadmin@milwaukee.gov.

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