Local restaurants, bars, salons and tattoo shops are among the businesses that got the green light to reopen when the Wisconsin Supreme Court on May 13 struck down the safer-at-home order extension. The switch has been flipped, but that doesn't mean the COVID-19 health risks are gone.

"The reality is it's a highly communicable disease," Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Secretary Missy Hughes said. "The science hasn't changed. The politics continue to change, but the science behind all this has not changed."

Business owners can turn to the WEDC website for guidance on safely reopening in the midst of a pandemic. It offers both general guidelines and specific information for different types of business.

“While I am happy for people to be able to reopen their businesses and get back to work, they should be reminded that COVID-19 is still a threat,” Douglas County Public Health Officer Kathy Ronchi said. “People should not open their businesses unless they follow the prevention strategies outlined in the WEDC guidance.”

Eldorado Bar & Grill in the village of Oliver was among the establishments that opened Wednesday night.

“It’s scary. It is scary,” owner Todd Pfeffer said. “There’s so many uncertainties.”

But the business, which has been selling curbside meat and hand sanitizer, was ready to roll with tables spaced at least 7 feet apart and bar stools 6 feet apart.

“Only six people to a table, and of course, wear a mask, and clean, clean, clean,” Pfeffer said.

Becky Sutherland, of Superior, stopped by the Oliver business Wednesday.

“It was nice to get out,” she said, and fellow patrons were in good spirits and happy to see each other.

Sutherland said she felt completely safe.

“Todd has the bar spaced for social distancing. And the bartenders have safety protocols they have to follow, including masks and a crazy amount of handwashing,” she said.

Birds Bar in South Superior also opened its doors Wednesday night.

“When we got the news that we could open we came down and unlocked the doors and so many people came in that we haven’t seen in a long time and we did serve them,” co-owner Kim Moore said. “In hindsight, it may have been a mistake because we were not prepared.”

The response from the public was heartwarming.

“It was amazing to see. This bar, like every bar, is more than just a tavern. It’s a sense of community and family,” Moore said. “There are so many people we missed so deeply and they all came in to say hello and it was wonderful to see people smiling and gathering and chatting again, but we need to do it in an organized and safe manner.”

On Thursday, Birds Bar staff were separating tables, removing stools and prepping plastic drinkware for a Friday reopening. Moore planned to research Centers for Disease Control guidelines, print out information and meet with her 12 employees to find out who felt comfortable coming in.

“We do need to open because business is suffering a little bit with the bar not being opened, but we want to do it in an educated way,” Moore said.

Many area bars and restaurants reached out to customers via Facebook to let them know they would reopen soon. It's easier to shut down quickly than it is to start up quickly, owners posted. Some even chose to remain with their current curbside and delivery menus.

Surrounding counties are still having high numbers of positive cases and even deaths, Ronchi said.

“Having our businesses open when theirs are not may draw people from those areas to our community, thus potentially bringing the virus with them,” she said.

Isolation and quarantine orders for people who develop the disease are still in place, and any outbreak associated with poor sanitation or crowd control could result in the closing of an establishment, Ronchi said.

Members of the public can also take steps to keep the virus at bay, from wearing a mask to washing their hands. People can choose to stay home, or come back later if a business is busy.

“I have confidence the business owners want to do the right thing,” Ronchi said. “We are here to help them in their decision making as they reopen. Our goal is to keep them safe, as well as their customers.”

Masks, sanitizer and social distancing are part of the new norm.

“Things are different and they’re going to be for some time, until we have a vaccination,” Pfeffer said. “We have to try to keep everybody safe.”

State stats

  • As of Thursday, May 14, Wisconsin had 11,275 positive test results and 434 deaths statewide.
  • There have been 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Douglas County as well as five probable cases in people who had close contact with a person who tested positive and displayed symptoms, but were not tested, according to the county's "COVID-19 dashboard."
  • The positive cases involved seven people in the city of Superior, two in the town of Superior and three in the Village of Lake Nebagamon. To date, 12 of them have recovered and 65 people have completed quarantine without symptoms.