From Seattle to Philadelphia, restaurants across the country are slowly reopening. Texas restaurants are already deep into the third phase, meaning they can welcome 75 percent of their legally allowed occupancy.
The restaurant industry is fighting for its survival. Takeout and delivery kept many of these afloat, and reopening is a calculated risk to bring in any bit of extra revenue. But they can do everything exactly right and follow safety guidelines by the letter but still have restaurant staff contract COVID-19 or come into contact with someone who has. That is what we’re beginning to see in North Texas.
Dallas County is in its sixth straight day of logging record-high case numbers, with about 4,600 active cases. Hospitalizations locally are up 35 percent since Memorial Day. We’re not in the danger zone yet, but in a statement this week, County Judge Clay Jenkins warned that the rise in hospitalizations for coronavirus symptoms are merely the tip of the iceberg.
Yolk and Royal China, as first reported by the Dallas Morning News, have had members of their staff test positive for COVID-19. Yolk notified employees who directly worked with this person, suggested they be tested, but didn’t ask them to self-isolate. Royal China has temporarily closed after a positive case. Same for Zoli’s in Addison and Cane Rosso in Carrollton. Back in April, Jay Jerrier, who owns both pizza chainlets, told me about his worries surrounding all of the reopening wildcards. “I told my wife, ‘I had to pick the one damn industry that has to have the crosshairs on it for this virus.’”
Lower Greenville’s Alamo Club says its closed “out of an abundance of caution” after an employee tested positive. And just yesterday Vantina, the pop-up that restaurateur Nick Badovinus opened three weeks ago in the back patio of his new Lowest Greenville spot Desert Racer, announced that a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. (That employee hadn’t been to work since June 7.)
Badovinus has been open with the public since the beginning. Town Hearth was one of the earliest restaurants to share news of a COVID case. “It’s just a very unfortunate part of the world we all live in today and we try to operate in,” Badovinus says.
Vantina will remain open. He says they’re following health guidelines from both the Centers for Disease Control and Texas Restaurant Association. “To be even safer, we are providing free tests for our team at Vantina today and have had the space dealt with professionally. We are confident our best practices…has been effective.” Those practices include screening for symptoms, temperature checks, and wearing masks and gloves.
“It is certainly tough news for us all. But thankfully the employee is feeling better. Hopefully we will all get a clean bill of health from the testing and be able to get going. It’s a great place with a great group of people working there and hanging out there. It really has been a wonderful first few weeks,” says Badovinus.
Beyond restaurants’ adherence to health guidelines, Texas Health and Human Services has safety protocols for restaurant customers too. It can’t only be on restaurants to practice safety if its patrons are flouting personal responsibility. Empirically, it appears the public is becoming less interested in wearing masks, the act of which is perhaps the most effective way to prevent the spreading the virus other than just staying home. I’m seeing people wear them less at grocery stores. I’m seeing people go without during restaurant outings.
While the state’s health protocol is helpful, it does not expressly minimize the person-to-person spread of the novel coronavirus. (Only staying home or wearing facial coverings and maintaining six feet of distance can, so far, successfully achieve that.)
Hand sanitizing stations, meticulous wipe downs between different parties at a table, decreasing high-touch surfaces (door knobs, point of sales, menus)—while all good things, they do not specifically address that coronavirus transmission is typically passed along via respiratory droplets.
After the uptick in cases, the city of Austin is encouraging restaurants to revert indoor capacities from 75 back down to 25 percent. There’s no indication that Dallas is pursuing anything similar, as of yet. Jenkins did ask Abbott to allow local governments to mandate mask wearing, something Abbott has not been willing to do. In his press conference Tuesday, Abbott changed the subject and said it appeared Jenkins only wanted to “throw people in jail.” Jenkins has said repeatedly that that is not his intention for enforcement.
For now, we’re watching the restaurant and bar scenes as they deal with the latest unknown territory of COVID cases occurring inside their dining spaces.
“We have to co-exist with the COVID-19,” Gov. Abbott said Tuesday.
The next case at a restaurant or bar, unfortunately, feels inevitable.