The City of Watertown and Watertown Department of Public Health has issued new guidelines for the COVID-19 Phased Reopening Plan to offer guidance and recommendations to the community. The recommendations take effect today.

The city is currently in Phase One and under the new guidelines, requires employees of businesses to wear masks, sets 25% capacity for restaurants, bars and the library, encourages virtual services at churches, discourages contact sports and highly recommends virtual instruction for students.

The phases and recommendations are provided in order to show the steps that should be taken so the community can stay as safe as possible as it works through the pandemic, according to the guidelines, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the city.

The guidelines spell out the restrictions under each of the five phases.

The city is currently in Phase One and under the new guidelines, requires employees of businesses to wear masks, sets 25% capacity for restaurants, bars and the library, encourages virtual services at churches, discourages contact sports and highly recommends virtual instruction for students.

“It is important to understand these are guidelines, and they are based on scientific research and best practice,” Mayor Emily McFarland said. “We are providing these guidelines to the community so we can have sound practices in place throughout the community in an effort to control the spread of the virus. We want to ensure our community has the guidance it needs so businesses and organizations can stay safely open and continue to provide services to our residents, and so that we can begin to move in a positive direction.”

The City of Watertown updated the phases and added new guidance based on changes made during the pandemic, community spread and newer guidance coming out from the Center for Disease Control and Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Council President Chris Ruetten said, “the council felt we needed to update the phases and recommendations; when Safer at Home was first put in place we did not have the resources and information that has become available over time that provides clearer answers and allows us to give the best guidance possible. We wanted to take this time to provide these recommendations now due to the uncertainty of how the flu season and COVID-19 will impact the coming winter months.”

“It is important that we all do our part and help control the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said health officer and Department of Public Health Director Carol Quest. “Our community has experienced significant numbers and any steps we can take to help mitigate the spread will have to be done in partnership with each other.”

The phases offer specific capacity information for different types of facilities, organizations and businesses. Furthermore, it provides safety procedure recommendations and helps organizations and businesses understand what they need to do to remain open as safely as possible.

“The only way that we can make progress toward getting back to a new normal is for everyone to do their part in following the guidelines,” said Dr. Donene Rowe, Watertown Department of Public Health medical director.

The recommendations are broken down by sector and organization type. The city health leaders anticipate there will be a need for dialog among stakeholders to ensure the needs of the community are met.

The universal practices include social distancing of 6 feet or more when in public, wear appropriate face covering, wash hands often, post signage at businesses to encourage face coverings, social distancing, hand washing and avoid contact if feeling sick.

Under employee safety in the new guidelines, employees are required to wear face coverings, limit the number of workers present on premises, and pre-screen employees for symptoms prior to starting a shift.

Under Phase One of the guidelines, restaurants, bars and food trucks are limited to 25 percent capacity, with face coverings required for staff and customers and physical distancing of tables.

Libraries and community centers are limited to 25% capacity according to guidelines, with face coverings and physical distancing imposed. The library is to utilize curbside pickup.

Under the new guidelines, churches are also recommended to limit capacity to 25% with virtual services encouraged.

Organizations should implement solutions to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and develop plans to adjust practices as needed, the guidelines state.

The recommendations are subject to change and could be superseded by an state, federal or other governing body orders or requirements.

The 20-page City of Watertown COVID-19 Phased Reopening Guidance can be found on the city website.

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