MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee will move into Phase 4 of its COVID-19 reopening plan at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1 as the state sees its largest increases in the coronavirus since May.
As Fourth of July weekend approaches, the City of Milwaukee celebrates an independence day of its own, though the move to Phase 4 comes with restrictions.
The transition means businesses will be able to open with a higher capacity than previously allowed; the health commissioner said the city will make sure there is compliance with that capacity restriction.
"Moving to Phase 4 doesn't mean we're gangbusters and everything is open, like Texas, or some of these other areas," said Jeanette Kowalik, Milwaukee health commissioner.
Starting Wednesday, gyms, restaurants and bars will be able to open at 50% capacity. Retail stores will be able to open at 75%.
"The Health Department will be monitoring this capacity," Kowalik said. "Remember, we have an order, it's not guidance. It is something we can enforce."
Wisconsin is now seeing its biggest increase in COVID-19 cases in a month, and states across the U.S. are being forced to put more restrictions in place as cases rise.
"We are all looking at the national scene as well, and it would be foolish of us to ignore what's happening in Texas and California," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.
Milwaukee leaders said the city met its criteria to open at this phase, but they will be making sure that people follow the rules. Members of the city's Consumer Environmental Health staff will be assigned to areas of the city to keep an eye on businesses. If there are violations, compliance measures will begin with a warning, move to a fine and, if rules continue to be broken, a heftier punishment.
"There's a possibility that a business could lose their license if they're not compliant," Kowalik said.
As Milwaukee stays cautious, Phase 4 takes the city one step closer to a full reopening.
"When we talk about these protective steps, it's not as a punishment, it's not as a political statement," said Barrett.
Kowalik encourages people to let the Milwaukee Health Department know about any capacity violations by sending photos or videos; email firstname.lastname@example.org with violation information.
The city will remain in Phase 4 for at least the next two weeks.