In Los Angeles County, the health department’s protocol for reopening is strict, but just over a week ago, health inspectors who visited about 2,000 restaurants found that only half were actually in compliance.
The city has since broken its own daily record, reporting more than 2,903 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday alone. The spread of the disease may be complex, but it’s impossible to ignore these numbers.
Restaurateurs, despite being pushed into the role, are not our public-health officials. Understandably, many want customers to fill up their dining rooms, to eat and drink well, and to spend money again. But after collecting data from 30 million credit and debit card holders, JPMorgan Chase found a close correlation between the level of spending in restaurants and new cases of Covid-19: Restaurants can easily turn into hot spots.
Restaurant owners can’t, and shouldn’t, be in charge of weighing and managing the risks to both their customers and workers. How deep is their knowledge of the virus and its spread? What are their priorities? And why should they be put in an impossible position, stuck between the economic imperative to reopen and the fact that reopening may harm their workers and customers?
I’ve been dreaming for months about a streamlined reopening of dining rooms, about going back out to eat in a post-pandemic world. I’ve been tracking new kitchens, revisiting old ones, staying up late studying menus and looking forward to getting back to work as a critic in a newly rebuilt restaurant industry.
This seems completely absurd to me now. More than 20 million Americans are out of work because of the pandemic, and more than 125,000 have died.
As other countries have quickly and efficiently flattened their curves, the United States hasn’t controlled the spread of the virus. Instead, many officials have minimized its severity, planned poorly during lockdowns and failed to take decisive steps that could have made a safe national reopening possible.