Coronavirus: Milwaukee County Municipalities Limit Restaurants To Take-Out Only

For more up-to-date information, read our March 18 post.

Updated Tuesday at 1:31 p.m. CT 

A number of Milwaukee County municipalities have ordered bars and restaurants to close to in-house patrons; restaurants with take-out and delivery options are allowed to continue those services. Milwaukee, South Milwaukee, St. Francis, Bayside, Brown Deer, Cudahy, Fox Point, Glendale, River Hills, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay issued the following statement:

“Clear and bold actions are needed immediately to stop the spread of COVID-19 and strengthen public health in Milwaukee County, and that means closing our bars and restaurants for now. This will be extremely difficult on the family-owned bars, local restaurants and small businesses that make Milwaukee County the best place to call home. We are in unprecedented times, and that calls for unprecedented actions. We want to thank the bars, restaurants, businesses and all our residents for understanding this is a necessary measure to safeguard the health of our community. We are all in this together.”

Starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Greenfield, Hales Corners, Oak Creek, Wauwatosa, and West Allis will also restrict on-site consumption of food and beverages — with exceptions for health care facilities, weddings and funerals.

The news follows a recommendation by President Donald Trump on Monday: "All Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home, when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel.”

On Monday afternoon, Gov. Tony Evers used state law to ban public and private gatherings of 50 or more people. Evers said bars and restaurants will be allowed to serve up to that number or half the establishment’s capacity, whichever is less. But local regulations are becoming even stricter.

"This isn’t a decision that I made lightly," Evers said, "and we understand it will have an impact on Wisconsin workers, families, business and communities, but keeping folks safe and healthy has to be our highest priority.”’

Officials say state law does allow people to be fined or incarcerated if they don’t comply, but for the most part, he expects residents to be cooperative.

Evers' move is in line with federal recommendations.

Gov. Tony Evers announced a ban on all gatherings of 50 people or more on Twitter Monday.
Credit Screenshot / Twitter

Evers tweeted Monday that he was ordering the ban, but said, “critical infrastructure and services such as grocery stores, food pantries, childcare centers, pharmacies, and hospitals will be exempt.” He hasn't said how long the order will be in place.

And while schools are closed statewide, some daycare centers are staying open. During Monday's press conference, reporters asked why, given that children could spread the virus there.

Andrea Palm, secretary of the state health department, said that health care and nursing home workers need child care so they can do their important work. “And so the rationale is really a fundamental public health need to have an infrastructure in place whereby this critical workforce can maintain their jobs,” she said.

Evers said he’s working with the legislature in hopes that lawmakers will take up  coronavirus-related bills. He said he’d like to help hourly workers and small businesses, but he didn’t share concrete plans. He encouraged people to call their senator to urge them to support the coronavirus bill before Congress.

Officials added that they’re exploring all options for coronavirus testing, including drive-thrus.

There’s preliminary data that Wisconsin already has “community spread” of the coronavirus — meaning it’s been found in people who haven’t traveled out of the state or who’ve been exposed to a known case.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Bureau of Communicable Diseases, said social distancing helps prevent people — including people with no symptoms — from spreading the virus.

He said one reason it’s so important to slow the virus’ spread is that there’s a finite number of ICU beds and ventilators in hospitals.

"In a pandemic situation, the real risk is that the number of critically ill patients will grow too large too quickly," he said. "And we may not have enough resources to save everyone who needs critically critical care. In this situation, which we want to prevent at all costs, is what requires the whole community approach to the pandemic. "

On Monday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 13 positive cases of COVID-19 in Milwaukee County