MILWAUKEE — For the most part, many businesses in Milwaukee can't wait to start opening up at full capacity and ease those social distancing requirements.
"Beginning June 15, 2021, the City of Milwaukee will transition out of Phase 6 and away from many of the mandated COVID restrictions," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on Thursday.
Shank Hall owner Peter Jest has been waiting patiently for more than a year to hear those exact words. And now, thanks to Mayor Barrett's recent announcement, he'll finally be able to open his music venue at full capacity after many months of being shut down.
"We haven't done any shows since March 2020 because it's impossible to make money at 70 people for us. By the city giving us a date, I can relax with my July and August shows, knowing that we can be open at full capacity and sell that many tickets now," said Jest.
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Restrictions on gathering sizes and occupancy limits will be lifted for businesses and events.
"Social distancing and keeping tables six feet apart really made it so we can only have a handful. So, being able to get back to seating people at the bar where half of our seating was, will be very helpful," said Dead Bird Brewing Company owner, Nick Kocis.
The announcement comes after Mayor Barrett and health officials say they've seen a downward trend in positive COVID-19 cases throughout the city over the past two weeks. According to the city's health department, last week, they had 113 cases per 100,000 people. But as of Thursday, officials say they've had 82 cases per 100,000, and a positivity rate of 4%.
"If at any point it starts to look like anything like what occurred last fall, we will have to put restrictions back in place," said Kirsten Johnson, health commissioner for the City of Milwaukee.
But Natasha Jewels, the general manager of her family's restaurant, Jewel's Caribbean, says the mayor's recent announcement is concerning.
"With the travel season coming, we are concerned that those variants will make their way to Milwaukee and will spread, especially if people are not practicing safe social distancing," said Jewels.
That's why she says Jewels Caribbean will not be easing restrictions anytime soon.
"We do have to reduce our capacity and we will continue to do so until we feel it's safe to not do so. No matter what the mandate is from the mayor's office, people's personal rules are still in place when it comes to the pandemic," said Jewels.
In the announcement made Thursday morning, Mayor Barrett said masks would still be required indoors, but officials say that could change now that the CDC just released its updated mask guidelines.