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As Milwaukee County Begins To Reopen, Officials Want You To Remember Coronavirus Hasn't Disappeared

Scott Olson
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Someplace Else II bar and restaurant offers sanitizer to its customers and has taken social distancing measure to make customers feel safer as it adjusts to reopening on May 15 in Elkhorn, Wis.

Suburban communities in Milwaukee County are reopening Friday. That means all businesses can open their doors. But the city of Milwaukee continues to keep nonessential businesses closed.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says he would like to have good news next Friday about a gradual plan to reopen those establishments. But first, there are benchmarks to meet.

"We're gonna be looking at the number of cases and the percent positive cases. That's something that's important. We're gonna look at testing the testing capacity of Milwaukee residents who are symptomatic. The same for the PPE, making sure that we’ve got enough equipment for our hospital workers, our frontline workers, and the tracing," he says.

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Barrett says city officials are also keeping track of the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, which he says hasn't been trending in the right direction. There was a 29% increase in the number of hospital beds used over the last week and an increase again on Thursday — even though, overall, hospitals currently have enough capacity to care for the number of people sick with COVID-19. 

Barrett says city officials also don’t feel like the city is there yet when it comes to the number of cases, testing and tracing capacity, although they hope to be there within the next week.

He announced the business shutdown was continuing the day after 17 Wisconsin residents filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to void stay-at-home orders by local officials. Barrett doesn't seem too concerned about the lawsuit because he says local health officials are allowed to take steps for public health.

Meanwhile, with other municipalities in Milwaukee County reopening businesses, County Executive David Crowley stressed Thursday that the coronavirus has not left the community. He says with the long Memorial Day weekend, he expects some people will want to visit family and friends they haven’t seen in a long time.

"We still must remain vigilant, making sure that we are protecting one another, and that means that we must abide by CDC guidelines that have been put out there, so remaining in small groups, particularly those that live within your household," says Crowley. 

Crowley says he doesn’t recommend people have barbecues. But if they do, he says they should keep a safe distance from one another and avoid touching the same utensils and platters of food.

Darren Rausch, a Greenfield health official, explained the best way to celebrate under the cloud of COVID-19.

"I can say staying home is probably the safest thing that you can do this weekend. But if you must go out, be aware of your physical distancing, wear a face mask, use hand-hygiene, and, most importantly, remain home if you’re ill," says Rausch.

There are more than 5,600 cases of COVID-19 in Milwaukee County and 246 county residents have died from the illness.

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Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018.
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