MILWAUKEE - Milwaukee restaurants and bars that do not adhere to health regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic may soon face steeper consequences.
Cafe India in Bay View and Skybox Sports Bar in Halyard Park have both been cited for social distancing and mask violations. Casablanca on the Lower East Side was cited for hookah usage.
The three joined Trinity and Fiesta Cafe as the only businesses so far to be fined. More than one dozen other businesses have been sent warnings.
"The time to be nice, happened many many months ago," said Milwaukee Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, chair of the Common Council's Public Safety and Health Committee.
Milwaukee Health Department placard denoting an approved COVID-19 safety plan for bars and restaurants
Dimitrijevic said it is time to boost the fine for non-compliance from $500 to $5,000 per offense.
"We have seen the worst surges ever in the city and the state and even the top of the nation," Dimitrijevic said. "What we saw were some of the large restaurants who said the $500 fine is only one night of activity."
The proposal unanimously passed in committee on Thursday. Now, it moves to a vote by the Common Council on Nov. 24. So far, Dimitrijevic said there appears to be support for the proposal.
"The overwhelming majority of restaurants and bars are complying with the safety order and their own safety plans. Which is why we just seek to get compliance for those who are making poor choices during this pandemic," said Dimitrijevic.
To bring the curve down, city leaders say there will also be more staff members monitoring bars as so-called "pandemic fatigue" sets in with more people anxious to find something to do.
Out of 993 Milwaukee businesses with COVID-19 safety plans submitted, the Milwaukee Health Department has approved plans for 664.