By Bridget Fogarty, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service   Published Jun 27, 2020 at 11:01 AM

As national protests for racial justice, among other issues, dominate the news, we issue this important public service announcement: COVID-19 has not gone away.

The coronavirus continues to ravage our communities.

Here’s an update on what you and your loved ones need to know to stay safe, healthy and informed.

Recent updates on the statistics of cases

The coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown residents in Milwaukee, with the highest number of current cases in the 53204 South Side ZIP code.

In addition, the Health Department has reported an increasing number of COVID-19 cases among Hispanic or Latinx individuals under the age of 15 in Milwaukee, according to a report released last Friday.

You can find more information on the county’s COVID-19 statistics here.

What is the timeline for reopening?

Milwaukee has been in Phase Three of reopening businesses since the first week of June. Every seven days, the Health Department and city officials reassess efforts to reopen based on "gating criteria."

Phase Three allows businesses and public spaces to open and requires physical distancing and protective measures.

What does Phase Three mean for businesses?

Many businesses and activities have resumed with physical distancing, protective measures, size limits and safe business practices.

For the past couple of weeks, retail establishments and stores have been allowed to be open at 50% capacity, and restaurants and bars have been operating at 25% capacity, according to the Health Department’s regulations.

Hair and nail salons, barber shops, day spas and other wellness-related services are allowed to serve one client for each service provider.

Summer camps and child care programs are allowed to be at about 50% capacity, with physical distancing and safety measures taken. Check out a recent NNS article highlighting what you need to know about youth summer camps during the coronavirus and how you can enroll your child in online or in-person camps.

Can I gather with others?

Technically, yes. But certain safety measures still apply. According to the Milwaukee Health Department, faith-based gatherings, garage and yard sales, gyms and athletic centers are all allowed as long as less than 25% of the space is occupied, there is only one person every 30 square feet or there are no more than 250 people in a space.

Gatherings in homes and in public venues have the same requirements. Visitors must comply with physical distancing and protective measures while enjoying the outdoors at beaches and parks.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines advise: "The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and the virus spreading."

What about masks?

In most spaces, the use of a mask or cloth face covering is required. In others, it is strongly recommended.

Milwaukee County issued an administrative order earlier this month that requires any employees, volunteers or visitors (with some exemptions) entering Milwaukee County buildings or outdoor spaces with controlled entry points to wear masks. In spaces where a face mask is required, the county will provide disposable ones to the public.

While masks are not required on Milwaukee County Transit System buses, riders are strongly encouraged to use them while on board. MCTS continues to limit passengers to 10 per bus, and fare collection and front door boarding have resumed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on the importance of wearing a mask or face covering.

Where can I get tested?

Those with symptoms, essential workers and individuals who have recently been in larger crowds that may have made them more at risk for COVID-19 are encouraged to get tested.

This interactive map from the Milwaukee County/State of Wisconsin Expanded Community Testing Initiative displays the location and contact information of 21 COVID-19 testing sites.

Two community test sites opened on June 1. The North Side site is located at the Custer Stadium by Barack Obama High School, 4300 W. Fairmount Ave., and the South Side site is located at UMOS, 2710 S. Chase Ave.

If you are wondering what it is like to get tested, educator and activist Kika Meraz shared her experiences getting tested for COVID-19 on Milwaukee’s South Side in this Community Voices piece.

More COVID-19 resources 

1. IMPACT 2-1-1

You can call 2-1-1 to get connected to more information and resources related to COVID-19 in Milwaukee. IMPACT 2-1-1 is the area’s central access point for people in need. Users can get free and confidential services by calling the 2-1-1 helpline, texting their ZIP code to TXT-211, chatting online in real time with specialists or by searching a database on their own.

2. Protesting during the pandemic

Dr. Bryan Johnston offers his advice on how to stay safe if you decide to march during the pandemic in this Community Voices piece.

3. We Care Crew

The We Care Crew is a collaboration of county departments and local organizations dedicated to connecting individuals in neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19 with information and health education. The group will be distributing and resources such as masks and meals at temporary sites in Milwaukee County Parks. You can find participating park sites here.

4. News414 news texting service

Looking for more personalized direction to resources and information during the coronavirus crisis? Get connected with News414, a texting-based news resource from Milwaukee NNS, Wisconsin Watch and Wisconsin Outlier. You can text MILWAUKEE to 73224 and begin to receive free, personalized data via text messages.