City of La Crosse officials unanimously approved a new program that could help restaurants expand business outdoors, a safer environment for its patrons during COVID-19.
The program would allow restaurants, taverns and tasting rooms to set up shop on sidewalks, urban plazas, parking lots, green spaces and even city streets to serve its guests, after acquiring a permit.
“Our small businesses are facing incredible challenges and our restaurants are being hit very hard right now,” Robin Moses with Downtown Mainstreet, Inc. said in support of the program. “This idea is not new, it is happening across the nation.”
Officials did change language to allow for taverns and tasting rooms to be included in the program, which was originally only intended for restaurants, but there won’t be any vertical drinking allowed — in other words, drinks can only be served and enjoyed by patrons who are seated.
A big move by the city with the program is the allowance for street occupancy, which can be done in two different ways.
In one option, restaurants can apply to set up their tables and chairs in parallel or diagonal street parking spots. A barrier will be required to separate the patrons from traffic and pedestrians at a certain distance.
Or, a group of neighboring establishments can request together to block off portions of entire streets, known as a “Cafe Zone,” where they’ll each share the space, within their own designated barriers.
Traffic for any street approved for a Cafe Zone would be blocked until the program expired in November, though a designated fire lane would still be required.
Some streets already in consideration for a Cafe Zone are Pearl, Caledonia and Main streets, though they would need additional approval, and any street could potentially be approved for the program.
The program will also allow for those that serve alcohol to expand licenses so drinks can be served in the new outdoor spaces.
Proper barriers and social distancing will still be required, as will masks, which is current under Gov. Tony Ever’s recent statewide mask mandate, and restaurants will not be able to use the outdoor space to increase seating capacity and all cooking and food preparation will still need to be done in their regular setting.
Plenty of other cities have made similar moves as a way to help businesses during COVID-19, as experts have indicated that the risk of spreading the virus is much lower in outdoor settings.
In Madison, a new city order paved way for the possibility of streets around the Capitol Square to close for business use.
Broadly, the move also sparks a conversation about permanent car-free spaces in cities, as some have compared pedestrian-only streets in other cities as being safer and more productive for businesses, especially during a pandemic.
“If you want people to feel comfortable sitting outside and eating and spending money and talking, the cars must go,” one citizen wrote in an email to the common council in support of the program and longer-term street closures.
Applications for businesses will be available through the city and will need approval from the city’s Board of Public Works. All permits through the program will last until Nov. 13.
Another 13 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in La Crosse County Friday, while statewide positive test results increased by 832.
Locally, there have been 792 lab-confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with the newest attributed to one teen, six individuals in their 20s, two people in their 30s, and one each in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 80s.
A total of 674 cases are considered recovered and six patients are being hospitalized. One prior case has been transferred out of the county after disease investigation. There has been one La Crosse County death due to COVID-19, and 16,650 people have tested negative.
In Wisconsin, positive cases have reached 52,940, with hospitalizations totaling 4,637 and 934 fatalities due to the virus, an increase of 15 since yesterday. A total of 882,149 state residents have tested negative.
The La Crosse County Health Department, Wisconsin National Guard and School District of La Crosse will offer free COVID-19 drive-thru testing from noon to 8 p.m. Monday at Logan High School. Individuals age 5 and older with one or more potential symptoms of COVID-19 — including fever, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell — are eligible. Advance registration for testing is available at https://register.covidconnect.wi.gov/.
In addition to following the statewide face mask mandate, the La Crosse County Health Department urges community members to maintain a six-foot distance from non-household members, thoroughly wash hands and avoid unnecessary excursions.
Five new COVID-19 cases were reported Friday in Monday County, bringing the total confirmed to 208.
The county has 43 active cases, with three currently hospitalized and 164 recoveries. One person previously died.
The latest cases involve:
Monroe County residents won’t have to worry about getting a ticket for not wearing masks.
District Attorney Kevin Croninger said Friday he doesn’t believe Gov. Tony Evers has the authority to issue a statewide order. Evers issued a public health emergency Thursday requiring anyone ages 5 and older to wear masks in all enclosed places except a person’s home. The order runs through Sept. 28 and subjects violators to a $200 fine.
Croninger said Evers’ emergency powers expired two months after he issued the first public health emergency in March. Croninger said the governor needs approval from the Legislature to enforce a mandate.
“There has to be a valid statute in place,” Croninger said. “He can go through the right channels and the right process.”
Croninger, a Republican, said he takes no position on mask-wearing. Evers, a Democrat, has clashed with the Republican-controlled Legislature and a Republican-leaning state Supreme Court over the scope of his emergency powers. The court invalidated the governor’s stay-at-home order in May.
“I know masks have been a hot-button issue politically, and I take no position on that,” Croninger said.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Tomah Police Department both posted Facebook messages Friday asking citizens not to call their offices to report violations.