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Outbreak Wisconsin: ‘Winter Is Coming, And A Lot Of Doors Are Going To Be Shut’

As Winter Approaches, Restaurant And Bar Workers Are In A Perilous Position

Amy Moreland stands outside a bar
Amy Moreland stands outside the One Barrel Brewing Company bar, where she works as a bartender. Moreland was out of work for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Will Cioci/ WisconsinWatch

COVID-19 is walloping the service industry, forcing some bars and restaurants to permanently close their doors while others shut down for winter.

Before the pandemic hit, Amy Moreland worked as a bartender and events coordinator in Madison, in many cases serving gatherings of 50 or more people.

“Well, that’s canceled forever, or (for) the foreseeable future,” she joked anxiously in an audio diary.

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She was laid off in March and remained unemployed for several months. She has since returned to bartending for two previous employers. But she serves far fewer patrons than before, considering Dane County’s 25 percent capacity limit on restaurants.

She works at one bar that doesn’t serve food, meaning it can only offer outdoor seating — all in the name of keeping people safe, Moreland said.

Bars and restaurants have become a national focal point for clusters of COVID-19 infections.

“We want to keep the employees safe. We want to keep our customers safe. We don’t want to be the cause of anybody getting COVID,” she said.

But as weather grows colder, outdoor seating will lose its appeal, Moreland said. As summer turned to fall in Madison, she began to worry about the future.

“Winter is coming, and all a lot of doors are gonna be shut,” she said. “A lot of your favorite restaurants and bars will not survive this winter.”

In Madison alone, several bars and restaurants have already announced permanent or temporary closures. Moreland worries more will close unless the county loosens restrictions on indoor dining. But that is unlikely unless COVID-19 stops spreading so widely.

Wisconsin is among the country’s worst COVID-19 hotspots, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths skyrocketing since September. On Monday, the state surpassed more than 200,000 cases of the illness.

Moreland said she is preparing for a bleak winter by saving any extra money she can.

“We’re all getting ready to be laid off again for a long time,” she said.

The United States could lose as many as 85 percent of its independent restaurants by the end of 2020 without significant financial assistance, according to a June report from the Independent Restaurants Coalition.

“The service industry needs help,” Moreland said. “We need your help, or we’re not going to survive this winter.”

Outbreak Wisconsin is a collaborative project by Wisconsin Watch and WPR following Wisconsin residents as they navigate life during the coronavirus pandemic. The residents will contribute diary entries, in the form of audio, video, text, drawings and photos of themselves, their families and personal and professional lives. That content will be supplemented by interviews and digital content to provide a full picture of how the pandemic is affecting all aspects of life in Wisconsin.

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