Three more Milwaukee restaurants issued citations for violating COVID-19 policies

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- As COVID-19 cases skyrocket in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Health Department is cracking down on bars and restaurants that aren't following the rules.

The department is asking customers to anonymously report businesses that violate the mask mandate and other COVID-19 safety orders.

Three businesses were hit with a new wave of citations over the last week, according to a spokesperson for the department. Cafe India in Bay View and SkyBox Sports Bar on MLK were cited for social distancing and masks. Casablanca on Brady Street was cited for hookah usage.

Ryan Rehan, the owner of Cafe India, told CBS 58 the citation came after an "exceptionally busy day" for the restaurant. He said he does his best to follow the rules and keep tables six feet apart.

Rehan believes the health department should have warned business owners on how to properly follow the guidelines, and he said fines like this make a hard time even harder for small business owners.

The owner of Casablanca declined CBS 58's request for an interview. The owner of SkyBox Sports Bar was not immediately available for comment.

The health department is now skipping warnings and going straight to fines. The Milwaukee Common Council is considering legislation that would increase the current $500 penalty for violating the COVID-19 safety orders from anywhere between $500 and $5,000.

Chris Marsicano, president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, said he believes this proposal singles out his industry.

"The restrictions in Dane County and the city of Milwaukee is really hurting our members that are in those cities," Marsicano said.

CBS 58's Rose Schmidt asked him, "The Tavern League has tried to block a lot of the restrictions and capacity limits set by the state. What would you say to people who say that that's actually making the problem worse in Wisconsin?"

Marsicano replied, "I would say, 'We feel that we are being targeted unfairly as small business people in singling out the bars and the restaurants.'"

But one Milwaukee business owner has a different take.

"One thing that I've always been is I've always been supportive of business, and I fight for business on a daily basis. One thing I can't support are the businesses that aren't following the protocol that the health department sets forth," said Omar Shaikh, co-owner of Carnevor.

Shaikh said he believes by now, restaurant owners should know better. So he doesn't think a $5,000 fine is too high.

"I think that there are some businesses that are just packing them in there, their staff (members) aren't even wearing masks, and they're gonna ruin it for everybody," Shaikh said.

Data from the health department on Friday, Nov. 13, showed 993 bars and restaurants have submitted COVID-19 safety plans. Of those plans, 664 have been approved.

Marsicano told CBS 58 he encourages his members to follow state guidelines, social distancing and mask mandates.

"A lot of people have the misinterpretation that we don't care, but we care deeply about our communities and we care deeply about our employees and our customers," Marsicano said.

But Shaikh said he believes the way to show that is by following the rules.

"(To) the businesses that don't want to enforce it: Just understand we're gonna get shut down -- all of us -- if you don't run a responsible business," Shaikh said.

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