As Cases Rise, Restaurants Adjust Mask Guidelines

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise with outbreaks in northern Door County, restaurants have taken stronger measures to prevent the spread and assure customers that their establishments are safe. 

On July 16, Husby’s Food and Spirits, the popular bar and grill in Sister Bay, announced that it would close out of caution after an employee tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. By July 21, the bar had reopened, but only after most employees had received their test results. Co-owner Chad Kodanko said Monday that no additional employees had tested positive.

“Nobody forced us to close,” Kodanko said. “We have not been contacted by the health department. But we decided to close and ask all of our employees to get tested before we reopen.”

The Husby’s announcement sent ripples through the village and northern Door County. In the wake of that announcement, several Sister Bay restaurants upped their precautions. The Northern Grill announced it will offer curbside-pickup only; Wild Tomato announced that all customers will be required to wear face marks until seated or if they’re drinking while they wait to be seated – a policy also enacted at Al Johnson’s, Skip Stone, CHOP and Lure. The Sister Bay Bowl and Boathouse on the Bay have temporarily suspended indoor dining. Other restaurants such as Grasse’s Grill, Base Camp, Door County Creamery and Analog already had mask requirements or had already suspended indoor dining.

Door County Medical Center (DCMC) is now offering COVID-19 testing at the NWTC Learning and Innovation Center, 2438 S. Bay Shore Dr. in Sister Bay, to those who are experiencing symptoms. Tests will be offered July 22 and 29, 9 am – 2 pm. Appointments are required. Make them through DCMC’s COVID hotline at 920.746.3700.

Brian Stephens, Door County Medical Center’s executive director, said his staff is working with area volunteer groups and other medical providers to ramp up testing.

“It’s a manpower issue now,” Stephens said. “The demand for tests has increased dramatically.”

Stephens said he’s trying to get the National Guard to return to the county to open a temporary test site as it did in early June.

As of July 22, the county reported 76 positive COVID-19 tests, with 20 cases listed as active and 318 tests pending. Residents are reporting wait times of 7-10 days for test results. This turnaround time is because of lab processing delays, not test availability or hospital resources. 

The Husby’s employee got tested on July 13 after being unable to taste food. Kodanko said the employee did not work after noticing symptoms. No other staff members have reported symptoms, Kodanko said.

Husby’s is one of northern Door County’s most popular restaurants, known for live music and nightlife. Kodanko said the bar has taken many precautions this year to operate safely, including increased sanitation, spacing tables and bar stools, and eliminating live music. Kodanko said staff members had been required to wear masks for food preparation, but not at the outdoor bar. Masking for servers is one of the primary recommendations from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation guidelines for restaurants. Though Kodanko said most customers choose to sit outside, inside dining has been available with tables spaced out.

Husby’s has also not required masks of its customers. Kodanko, a member of the Sister Bay Village Board, said he’s frustrated with leadership at the county, state and national levels for leaving it to businesses to make public-health decisions. 

“I would love for our state to adopt legislation so we as businesses can all operate the same,” he said. “To leave it up to individual businesses is a joke. I’d love regional or nationwide protocols.”

On July 20, the Town of Baileys Harbor passed a resolution recommending masks. 

The latest COVID-19 Travel Sentiment Study from the tourism consulting firm Longwoods International revealed that travelers who were surveyed prefer destinations that require masks. Sixty percent prefer destinations that require face masks in public. Thirty-five percent report they will visit only those destinations that have mandatory face-mask orders. Only 9 percent of American travelers are less likely to visit a destination that requires face masks.