As more states allow restaurants and bars to offer outdoor or limited capacity indoor, dining, the country has seen a massive spike in COVID-19 cases. It’s not quite a second wave — the first wave never ended — but the rising cases almost directly coincided with the reopening of businesses. Restaurants and bars have already been determined as particularly risky locales when it comes to the spread of COVID-19, both for customers and for service workers, and individual restaurants have already been shutting down when a case has been detected. But now, local and state governments are beginning to reimplement restrictions in an attempt to once again curb the spread.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that all bars across the state must close today at noon, and that on Monday, restaurants must revert to 50 percent capacity for indoor dining. This is a roll back from bars having been allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, and restaurants at 75 percent. Bars will still be able to offer to-go cocktails. In Idaho, Ada County, which includes Boise, will also move back to Stage Three of reopening from Stage Four, which means bars and nightclubs must close, and while restaurants can continue dine-in service, bar tops in restaurants cannot operate. Since Stage Four began, 69 cases of coronavirus have been linked to people who visited bars in downtown Boise.
Florida, reporting record highs of coronavirus cases, is also shutting down on-site alcohol consumption at bars, effectively closing them, starting immediately. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation made the announcement on Twitter, but did not offer further guidance as to how bars were supposed to close. Three days ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the DBPR would be cracking down on bars that violated social distancing and capacity ordinances.
While being willing to implement restrictions in reaction to a surge in cases is promising, it may very well be too little too late, especially given that, in the case of Texas, moving from 75 to 50 percent capacity doesn’t seem like much. And the process of reopening and reclosing — rather than staying closed continually until the pandemic dies down — could wreak havoc on restaurants and bars. Reopening a restaurant is a huge cost to owners, especially considering the extra investment in specialized cleaning and protective gear for staff. If restaurants and bars are made to reduce capacity again, or shutter outright, the financial strain could close them for good.
Another detriment of the renewed closures are that employees might have to reapply for unemployment, a process that could take weeks, right as the extra $600 a week through the CARES Act is set to expire.
For months, scientists, workers, and anyone who takes time to read the coronavirus graphs have been screaming about how reopening was a bad, dangerous idea, especially given the first wave of COVID-19 never even died down. Much of this could have been avoided had everything stayed closed for longer, and had the federal and state governments implemented measures — canceling rent and mortgage payments, providing regular stipends — to keep business owners from feeling pressure to reopen. Instead, restaurants and bars are being thrown into a precarious situation where they may be forced to close again, with little warning or support.
But saying “WE TOLD YOU SO” isn’t going to stop the pandemic either. We can only hope these measures, and others that are likely to follow, will help.