Just days after the Inauguration of Joe Biden, the dangers of coronavirus seem to be quickly disappearing in the food and beverage industry. So much so that several state and local jurisdictions are immediately easing the service restrictions imposed on restaurants. Though welcome, the ease of restrictions is not as swift as many in the struggling restaurant industry would like, considering approximately 17 percent of the total restaurants in the country—110,000 restaurants—have permanently closed or have shut down long-term due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UncoverDC previously reported on the extraordinary about-face reversal on lockdown restrictions put into motion by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan. And just like that, multiple cities and states have followed suit.
On Monday, officials in California, the state with the nation's largest restaurant market, were quick to follow when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that his stay-at-home directive would be lifted on Jan. 25. The state has been under one of the most severe lockdowns in the nation. It is unclear if the decision was politically motivated as efforts to recall Governor Gavin Newsom from office continue to gain momentum with well over one million signatures. Newsom's move will permit restaurants to return to outdoor dining service statewide immediately and indoor areas that meet the governor's safety thresholds.
Despite citing improved hospital conditions as one reason for the change, the state currently sees no significant improvement in its overcrowded hospital intensive care units. The percentage of those dying has doubled since October. Interestingly, California has one of the country's highest COVID-19 hospitalization rates because the state has relatively fewer hospital beds than most other states—just 1.8 per 1,000 people (compared with 4.8 in South Dakota, which has the most beds in proportion to its population).
The video below is an amusing, yet arguably, quite accurate, depiction of California's lockdown life, shared from the Recall Gavin Newsom website.
In Chicago, restaurants were permitted on Sat. Jan. 23 to resume indoor restaurant service at 25 percent of their seating capacities, up to a maximum of 25 people. Bars that serve food will also be allowed to seat patrons indoors again, with a maximum of four people allowed per table. Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker had previously allowed restaurants outside of Chicago to resume limited indoor dining.
Restaurants in Philadelphia were allowed to reopen at 25 percent of their indoor capacities starting Jan. 16. More than 100 restaurants have been closed in other parts of Pennsylvania by the State Department of Agriculture for neglecting to follow Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf's safety protocols, including mandates that employees and guests wear face masks. Across the state, restaurants have a 50 percent capacity limit on indoor dining unless more rigorous local requirements are in place.
NYC Open Restaurant sidewalk and/or roadway seating area guidelines.
Restaurants in New York City are pushing for Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo to follow suit. After 90 restaurants in the Buffalo area successfully sued to reopen despite Cuomo's ban on indoor dining, the state chief executive begrudgingly approved a resumption of interior table service in areas with moderate rates of increase in new COVID-19 cases. The Big Apple was not one of those jurisdictions, even though, according to Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, "our infection and hospitalization rates are lower than most counties in the state where indoor dining is permitted at 50% occupancy." Indoor dining in NYC was banned on Dec. 14, 2020, until further notice.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, aggravated restaurants in his state when he declared that he would prolong a 10 pm curfew on restaurants past Jan. 23. The service limit was scheduled to expire on Saturday, but the Governor pledged to ease the forced shutdown until 11 pm starting Jan. 30.
Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker declared that effective at 5 am on Jan. 25, the 9:30 pm curfew on businesses will be lifted, as well as a stay-at-home order that asked people not to go out between 10 pm and 5 am. Baker said the changes apply to, but are not limited to, restaurants, health clubs, and movie theaters. But the governor kept in place the state's 25 percent capacity cap, saying he'll reconsider an expansion to 50 percent on Feb. 8.
In Baltimore, Democrat Mayor Brandon Scott lifted the city's suspension on all on-site dining as of Fri. Jan. 22. Restaurants can now use up to 50 percent of their outdoor seating and 25 percent of indoor capacities. However, customers can remain at their tables for no more than one hour, and they must sign in and out on a timesheet to verify they're within that limit. On Nov. 20, 2020, restaurants across other parts of Maryland noticed a return to 50 percent capacity for indoor dining that included not being open to the public between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am—except for carryout, delivery, or drive-thru service. Dine-in customers are not permitted during these hours.
According to reports, indoor dining was also reinstated in the District of Columbia, where it was completely shut down on Dec. 23, 2020, to battle rising Covid cases. On Dec. 18, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued Mayor's Order 2020-127 to pause various Districts activities from Wed. Dec. 23, 2020, until Jan. 15, 2021. The Order also prolongs the state of emergency and public health emergency for Washington, DC, through March 31, 2021.