New concerns arise for businesses crafting reopening plans after Epic changes course

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – Reopening has not been an easy process, from those on the corporate scene, to small locally-owned restaurants.

James Juedes, co-owner of Casetta Kitchen and Counter in downtown Madison, reopened in May for carry-out only. He said they have adapted as quickly as they can to changes, while also being as safe as possible.

“It’s probably been easier to make that change for us then a lot of other businesses because of our size, because we are smaller, but it certainly has not been smooth,” he said.

While Juedes said he is not concerned about the safety of their current operations, he does worry about their long-term plan.

“Especially in the winter, when patios and outdoor pickups kind of close. What happens then?” he asked.

President of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Zach Brandon, said they have been working with businesses like Casetta from the very beginning to offer guidance. However, even with the county’s reopening plan in motion, new concerns have come up.

“Now there seems to be this question about what does it mean to reopen. There are 14,000 employers in Dane County. All of them have different set-ups, different sizes, different number of employees,” he said.

Brandon said after Epic Systems, a Verona-based software company employing close to 10,000 people, changed its reopening plan following criticism, other companies reached out to him worried their plans could be scrutinized.

“We have 1,200 members plus across the region, and a big percentage of those are telling us now that they are worried about what all this means. We had dozens of contacts immediately saying ‘what does this mean for me?’” Brandon said.

Brandon said while restaurants are still limited to 25 percent capacity, businesses can operate at 50 under the current health order. He said the order also states businesses should ‘to the greatest extent possible,’ facilitate remote work. Brandon said this broad phrasing has caused some to pause.

“There’s now a chilling effect over businesses in Dane Co. who are unsure, uncertain and unclear about the path forward, and that will have a real effect and impact on our unemployment numbers,” he said.

Brandon said finding a balance of remote and in-person work is crucial, but he said many are concerned if an employee complains, they will have to start from scratch.

“That businesses would determine what is the greatest extent possible means, and now we have this question mark: can this be challenged by complaints?” Brandon said.

He said the success of all businesses depends on finding this balance, even small restaurants like Casetta who depend on employees downtown to dine there.

“We really serve the people that work downtown, so when the people working downtown are not there, it is also more difficult,” Juedes said.

Brandon noted the percentage of COVID-19 infections attributed to the workplace is going down. According to Public Health Madison Dane County latest data snapshot capturing July 25 to August 9, of the 625 people interviewed for positive COVID-19 cases, 86 were associated with a ‘cluster’ of two or more people. 22 were specifically from workplaces.

Brandon said they are working directly with public health and created several initiatives to help businesses maneuver the process of reopening.

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