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Latest WI county to drop COVID-19 restrictions urges businesses to proceed with caution

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MONROE (WKOW) -- Green County's chief health officer urges businesses to proceed with caution as they reopen, with the county becoming the latest regional unit of government to drop COVID-19 related restrictions.

Last week, health officer RoAnn Warden adopted the restrictions of Governor Evers' Safer At Home Order, aligning Green County with neighboring counties Dane and Rock. The counties acted to preserve health boundaries in their jurisdictions after the state Supreme Court struck down the governor's statewide order.

But Warden says an analysis by her county's corporation counsel and district attorney determined no local ordinance existed to authorize Green County to act and effectively set aside the Supreme Court's ruling. On Monday, Warden dropped Green County's coronavirus-related restrictions.

Owner Wendy Sanders opened The Depot Bar in Monroe in response to Warden's action. She says her business has realized no revenue since late March. Sanders says not only is the reopening a boost to her bottom line, her first wave of customers responded with relief.

"They were just so happy to get out of the house and seeing friends they haven't been able to see and talk to," Sanders says. "(The atmosphere is) Laid back. And everyone was just every happy."

Sanders and her bartender Tuesday were not wearing masks while working. But Sanders says they've worked to sanitize the property. She says she is allowing groups who enter together to use adjacent bar stools, but is keeping recommended social distance between stools at the bar for other customers.

"So we are doing our best to tell people, be respectful of everyone's space," Sanders says.

Warden says she's asking businesses and community groups to continue to observe health recommendations to slow the spread of the virus, including maintaining social distances.

"Provide an environment that's safe, with entrances and exits that adopt these physical distance practices," Warden says as an example of Green County and the state's guidance for reopening. "Screen...employees for illness," she says.

Sanders says she's prepared to ask customers to leave her bar if they appear ill with virus-type symptoms.

Warden says business owners have approached the county health department with questions about the transition from closure to reopening with no mandated restrictions. She says they've asked about liability if an employee contracts the coronavirus. Warden's responded to those inquires by referring the business owners to their insurers.

Warden says other questions have involved approach to set-up of premises and capacity. Sanders says her bar historically always operates below its capacity limit of 99. Sanders concedes she appears to be the only bar in Monroe that's opened coinciding with the end of the county's restrictions. Sanders says posting to her business' Facebook page attracted more than regulars to her bar.

"We've had people coming up from Illinois because they cannot do anything there," Sanders says.

Some other businesses in Green County with the ability to now open are proceeding more cautiously.

The owner of Amy's Corner Cafe in Monroe says the business' opening will be the during the week of Memorial Day at earliest. "I need to get food product ready," Amy Maaske says. Maaske says she's also evaluating options on how to safely welcome back diners.

Monroe's Minhas Micro Brewery is operating its gift shop, as Evers relaxed restrictions on small retail shops last week. Manager Louis Armstrong says the brewery's tasting room will open after Memorial Day. But Armstrong says there's been no date set for a resumption of brewery tours. "We have to ensure there's no introduction of the virus to our production facilities," Armstrong says.

The Depot Bar has a small staff. Bartender Heather Gower says she was paid her full-time wage during weeks of closure. Gower says she appreciates the uninterrupted salary. She covered a busy lunch crowd Tuesday as she returned to work.

"Customers were tipping. It was awesome to be back to work."

Here is the Green County Health Department's business reopening toolkit:

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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