Across the United States this summer, restaurants and bars, reeling from forced shutdowns and a sharp decline in finances, opened their doors to customers, thousands of whom were already craving for food. Deep bowls of soups, effervescent margarine and juicy burgers stuffing in sparkling onions.
However, short-term profits have resulted in even greater losses. Data from states and cities show that many of the coronavirus outbreaks in the community this summer are focused on restaurants and bars, often the biggest infectious places for Americans.
In Louisiana, about a quarter of the state’s 2,360 cases since March not in places like nursing homes and prisons have come from bars and restaurants, according to state data. In Maryland, 12% of new infections last month were found from restaurants, contact tracking devices were found there, and in Colorado, 9% overall were traced from bars and restaurant.
It is unclear overall what percentage of workers passed the virus on to themselves or to patrons or whether customers brought the virus in. But these groups have alarmed health officials as many restaurant and bar staff nationwide are in their 20s and may carry domestic viruses and possibly household seeds, skyrocketed. in recent weeks through Sunbelt and the West.
Since the end of June, many restaurants have been famous across the country, including in Nashville, Tennessee; Las Vegas; Atlanta and Milwaukee; had to close temporarily because of cases among employees. Texas and Florida also had to close bars this summer after a series of new cases made it difficult for those states. In a recent week in San Diego, 15 out of 39 new cases in the community came from restaurants. And in Washington, DC, cases have started sneakily since the city reopened to eating in the home.
In New York City and elsewhere, eating indoors, which have been shown to be much more dangerous than eating outdoors, is still prohibited. The epidemiologists fully agree that eating indoors, especially in bars, is much more likely to outbreaks than outside spaces.
“Until recently, we had not discovered a major outbreak in the US of any kind,” said Lindsey Leininger, a health policy researcher and clinical professor at Tuck School of Business in Dartmouth. any form of exposure outdoors.
In Spokane, Washington, 24 customers and one employee, most of them between the ages of 19 and 29, tested positive for the virus. Their cases involved a taco restaurant, although health department officials pointed out that the restaurant is taking all the recommended precautions.
“They are an element that needs to be managed,” said Kelli Hawkins, spokesman for the Spokane Regional Health District.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a number of business sectors, most notably healthcare (especially nursing homes) and meat processing, have accounted for a large proportion of cases in many states. But as cities and states reopened and many restaurant owners struggled to survive, the virus emerged. When the coronavirus finally arrived in the last district of California to see a case, the remote Modoc in the state’s northeastern corner came across a small restaurant in mid-nothing.
While the millions of restaurant and bar employees who were laid off while locked up are desperately getting back to work, many find themselves trapped among bosses who want them back as soon as possible. and customers who do not follow safety rules, such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distance.
“I feel absolutely compelled to go back to work at the bar,” said Jennifer Welch, a barista at a large pool hall in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “Even though I have an immunocompromised 1 year old and at the time, my 58 year old father was in a hospice hospital with Stage 4 small cell lung cancer.” Although being unemployed will pay more, Welch said, she has accepted the pressure and works 10-hour shifts.
Among food service workers, these cases seem to be particularly damaging to Latinos, who have been adequately attacked by the virus.
Brian Biondi, a barista at the French Quarter in New Orleans, was not eager to return to his job in June after three months off, as he was wary of the virus. By the end of July, his fear came true and he was suffering from a mild case of COVID
“There are still a lot of people who deny the intensity, a lot of people don’t wear masks,” he said. After three weeks off, Biondi is waiting to be resumed. “I feel great,” he said. “I still worry about the long-term effects. I still worry that this took many years of my life. ”
The restaurants found themselves tied up. Federal aid passed by Congress this spring is primarily intended for businesses that keep most of their workers employed, but restaurants and bars are barred from opening. Later, many local, state, and federal officials – including President Donald Trump – pressed restaurants to reopen, even as others assumed they were exploding the virus. this summer.
Daniel Patterson, a chef and a restaurant owner in California, said: “Restaurants generate a lot of revenue from sales and payroll taxes, so some pressure comes from city and state governments. “. “And I think one of the factors behind the rapid opening is that our society sees restaurants as disposable and the people who work in them are disposable, so in general, everyone Are less concerned with the safety of restaurant staff than with their own needs. They want a taco cake and a cold beer when they want.
Like many other businesses, restaurants cannot exploit business disruption insurance money because the virus does not cause material damage to property.
In order to receive federal aid, restaurants are first required to spend 75% of the bailout on payrolls (later reduced to 60%). They also face a short deadline to re-supply workers. But the only way that this will help businesses, restaurant owners say, is that if they can reopen and generate revenue during that period, it’s almost impossible. Most sites were allowed to operate at 50% capacity, and the pandemic has lasted longer than anyone expected.
“We’re trying to scramble to get as many people as possible,” said Michael Shemtov, who was forced to shut down two of the 10 restaurants he owns in Charleston, South Carolina and Nashville. “The only way to attract them is to pay them 40 hours a week, no matter how much or how little they work.
“But you can’t recoup the labor costs with the crazy busy weekends anymore,” he added.
At the same time, “the conversation in May went from closing restaurants to going back to work and life,” he said. “The South Carolina governor’s office didn’t have a pair of sympathetic ears when we said we needed to remove the number before we reopened the door.”
In Louisiana this spring, Republican lawmakers threatened Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, to deprive his authority to enforce emergency orders if he didn’t allow businesses to open up. come back. In some states, the move has been reversed: Restaurants urged the government to allow them to reopen, arguing they would close otherwise.
“We are all very worried about opening the doors, but any barista knows that when it’s time to work, you leave your luggage at home to take care of your customers,” said Waites Laseter, the bartender. mainstay at Backspace Bar & Kitchen, a hotspot of New Orleans. Laseter says the early days of safety measures and big tips have faded as more and more businesses opened up and tourists flocked in. Many of them vehemently opposed the rules and made their beloved job miserable, he said.
“A friend of mine was threatened with a gun for wearing a mask,” he said. “I always approach the bar as a safe space. Anyone can make a vodka and soda at home. “
However, he said, “Inappropriate bar-going has become an act of political insurgency.”
Mark Schettler, general manager of Bar Tonique and an activist representing New Orleans restaurant workers, said the same story around the state is. “Not a person I know has come back entirely for the love of the game or because they believe it’s safe,” he said. “In particular, bars, and our industry in general, have been doing both crash-test dummies and scapegoats.”
While Hispanic workers make up just over 17% of the total US workforce in the country, they make up more than 27% of restaurant and food service workers.
“Due to their social demographic, the people serving the food and their families are at higher risk of infection,” Leininger said. “During the pandemic, we have seen young workers unintentionally infecting older family members, with tragic consequences.”
Tracing a link can help stop an outbreak in restaurants, experts say, but only in places where no infection has spread. Melissa Lunt, nursing director of the Graham County Department of Health, Arizona, said: “I like to think that due to contact tracing and the quick quarantine of close contacts, we have not had a major epidemic in the past. restaurants. When workers fell ill at two restaurants in the area, the health department quickly quarantined them to avoid spreading to the community.
Examination is a worker problem. While many cities offer free tests, results can take days or even weeks to return, leaving employees out of jobs in the meantime.
Dr Alex Jahangir, president of a Nashville coronavirus task force who has studied the role of restaurants and bars in his area, said: “A lot of times restaurants will pay the bill. if they want a quick check through a private company. “Sometimes restaurants will send their employees to one of the locations in our city, which is free, but it can take three days to see results. If people have symptoms, restaurants will sometimes refer the person to the local medical center and will be covered by the health insurance for the examination. “
Of course, low-paid restaurant workers, especially part-time employees, may not be covered by health insurance. Or if they do, layoffs could jeopardize their ability to pay for those plans.
In the meantime, some owners are doing what they can to keep them functional and safe for everyone, at great expense and worry. Benjamin Goldberg, founder of Strategic Hospitality, an eight-point group that operates in Nashville, has opened several in-house dining venues and closed others. In a short time, he and his staff became small public health professionals. “We have been studying what the world is doing and learning from them,” he said. “The city and state guidelines are just the basis of our expectations.”
Not being able to check all the people who work in or into his restaurant – which is not possible – they take the temperature of every customer, worker and supplier before they are allowed in. Employees are checked for viruses regularly. All silver comes in a sealed bag with a sticker, the menu has turned virtual, and the pens used to sign checks are cleaned and placed in a sealed bag.
“We feel that if we can build that trust in the short term, it will pay off in the long term.”