Restaurant and education leaders in Wisconsin have joined forces to counter a new COVID threat to the public and the foodservice industry: College students returning to campuses.
Restaurants and bars in the state were sent a letter earlier this week that urges them to lessen the chances of schools and businesses being re-closed because of a surge in infections among young people arriving for the new semester.
“The University of Wisconsin System is welcoming back to campus nearly 170,000 students for in-person instruction starting Sept. 2,” states the letter, which was jointly signed by officials of the university system, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association (WRA) and the Tavern League of Wisconsin. “We are asking for your help to encourage responsible behavior of our students.”
The recipients are asked to discourage the young people from congregating on their premises and to insist that young-adult customers follow such safety fundamentals as wearing masks, washing their hands and keeping a distance between them and fellow guests.
The communication refers to what has happened in recent weeks to other colleges and the restaurants that draw sales from the student bodies. A week after resuming in-person classes, the University of North Carolina sent students home and resorted back to distance learning because of a quick spike in new COVID-19 infections. Notre Dame followed a similar chain of events. At the University of Alabama, 560 students tested positive for coronavirus during their first week back on campus, prompting Tuscaloosa, the location of a University campus, to shut taverns and suspended bar sales within restaurants for 14 days.
“We know that nobody wants this outcome,” the letter states. “We know what these students mean to our university communities and businesses.”
The University of Wisconsin says it has developed “robust testing protocols” to detect COVID infections early and avert a surge. The University has 13 campuses throughout the state.
Counties have assumed the responsibility of setting safety requirements and service limitations on restaurants in the state, according to the WRA. For instance, Milwaukee recently announced that it would require all restaurants to submit a safety plan for on-site dining, including outdoor service, by Sept. 15 if they wish to keep their dining rooms open.