City repeals 10-patron limit for restaurants

CUSTOMER CARS and other vehicles were parked outside Madison's 2nd Street Diner at midday last week while the city's restaurants, bars and casinos were expected to follow rules limiting patrons to 10 persons inside and 10 persons outside. The customer limits, enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were repealed on Monday but businesses are encouraged to continue social-distancing and enhanced-cleaning efforts.

Two Madison Chamber officials requested on Monday that the Madison City Commission repeal municipal, COVID-19-related rules that certain businesses limit the number of customers inside their buildings and those who gather outside the premises.

Dan Buresh, president of the Greater Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the commissioners asking that they repeal a resolution passed on April 27. The April resolution limited the number of customers at restaurants, bars and casinos to 10 persons inside and 10 persons outside to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In part, city officials wanted to place limits on the number of customers because customer limits were easier to enforce than social-distancing rules.

Buresh told the commissioners that a one-size-fits-all approach did not work for Madison. He said city officials should instead encourage local businesses to enact social-distancing rules.

According to Buresh, the city and businesses should emphasis other COVID-19-spread prevention measures such as 6-foot distancing between customers and enhanced cleaning practices in businesses. Buresh said businesses such as restaurants, bars and casinos needed customer revenue to pay staff, rent and utilities.

Buresh told the city commissioners that business owners should reassure their customers the proper pandemic-prevention measures were in use. If business owners fail to follow safe practices, Buresh said "...patrons will no longer feel safe doing business there."

After Buresh spoke, Eric Hortness, the Chamber's executive director, said the Madison businesses could take other measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Hortness told the commissioners that restaurants could provide one-use, throw-away menus and offer condiment packets with meals to help prevent transfer of the virus. Hortness added that he would speak to business owners after the commissioners' meeting, and he expected that some Madison businesses could expand outdoor customer seating.

Buresh and the commissioners also spoke about "back to normal" plans, and Gov. Kristi Noem promoted "South Dakota's Back to Normal Plan" on April 28. As part of Noem's plan, retail businesses were advised to "Resume operations in a manner that allows for reasonable physical distancing, good hygiene, and appropriate sanitation" and "Consider restricting occupancy and continue innovating in this uncertain environment." Noem also advised that employers should "Encourage employees to stay home when sick."

Noem's advice to local governments centered on having public officials "Consider current and future actions in light of (Back to Normal Plan) guidelines."

Commissioner Kelly Johnson called the repeal of customer limits "a calculated risk." Johnson said if a repeal was approved, people would need to act responsibly and business owners would need to act responsibly.

Commissioner Jeremiah Corbin said city officials could test reducing customer restrictions, watch the results and correct any missteps. Commissioner Mike Waldner noted that some Madison businesses were taking COVID-19 precautions before the city enacted its 10-customer restrictions.

The city commissioners approved the repeal of the 10-customer limit for restaurants, bars and casinos, and the repeal went into effect immediately.

Hortness said one Madison business was ready to follow the new social-distancing rules immediately on Tuesday. Other businesses were not certain when they might start following Madison's newly-enacted social-distancing guidelines.

The new resolution does not prevent the city commissioners from re-evaluating Madison's social-distancing regulations if the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic change in the city.