Hoping to avert further shutdowns, the National Restaurant Association on Monday urged the nation’s governors and mayors not to reclose restaurant dining rooms that are operating within current guidelines.
In a letter to the National Governors Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Lawrence Lynch, the NRA’s senior vice president, science and industry, wrote that the restaurant industry has been diligent in its commitment to stepped up safety protocols. The letter aims to dispel “inaccurate information” about the role of restaurants in spreading the virus.
Also on Monday, however, news reports around the country indicate restaurant and bar owners are becoming increasingly unwilling to comply with government-imposed limitations.
In New York, the state liquor authority reportedly handed out 105 violations to restaurants and bars over the weekend for blatant disregard of social-distancing rules, mostly in New York City.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday tweeted that another 27 violators were added to that list on Sunday night. “While the vast majority of restaurants and bars are in compliance, a few bad actors are not,” he tweeted.
Last week, a multi-agency task force created by the governor said it had conducted nearly 1,100 compliance checks at restaurants and bars between July 21-23, documenting 84 violations. Those businesses face fines of up to $10,000 per violation.
Ten venues in New York had their liquor licenses suspended, including Cipriani Downtown in Manhattan, where patrons were seen drinking and standing around tables in front of the restaurant, mostly without masks. Inside, an employee behind the bar had no face covering and patrons were buying alcohol at the bar, in violation of state orders, according to the governor’s task force.
“We are very proud of what New Yorkers did to flatten the curve of this virus, but we have to protect our progress because no one wants to do that again,” said Cuomo in a statement. “That’s why we’re watching the bar and restaurant violations and the congregations in front of these establishments, as we believe it’s connected to the increased infection rate with young people.”
In Texas, hundreds of bars reportedly opened over the weekend in an act of defiance dubbed “Freedom Fest,” despite a statewide shutdown order that followed a spike in COVID-19 cases across the state. Bar owners said the move was in part to protest that restaurants were allowed to remain open, albeit with limited capacity and safety protocols in place.
In the letter to governors, Lynch argued public mask requirements are effective and must be followed, saying restaurants that violate safety and health laws should not remain open.
“Our industry truly believes that we are all in this together and that any bad actors are not representative of our industry,” he wrote.
Lynch described restaurants as unwavering in their commitment to customer and employee safety. The NRA worked with leading health agencies to develop guidelines for safe reopening.
He said inaccurate information about restaurants continues to dot media coverage, such as a non-peer-reviewed paper about spread of the virus in a crowded restaurant in China that has become a talking point for health officials, though it “cannot and should not be used as a reliable scientific model and was never reproduced, and relies on customer density and seating patterns not allowable in any U.S. restaurant,” Lynch wrote.
“The ongoing comparisons between a single restaurant in China to America’s restaurant industry, seeped in a legacy of food handling safety, has had a negative impact on U.S. restaurants, our employees and has hindered our path toward recovery,” Lynch wrote.
During the height of the shutdown, the restaurant industry in March through June lost more than $145 billion in revenue, the NRA said.
Just as restaurants were gearing up to reopen in some states, more than 100,000 locations have been shuttered again by state and local mandates since the beginning of July, putting more people out of work and costing restaurant owners thousands, Lynch wrote.
“Closing the dining rooms of restaurants that are operating within the prescribed guidelines harms our communities and hinders our recovery,” the letter said.
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