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All of a sudden, there's talk of reopening

States are coming together to plot a restart of the economy. But restaurants may be on the sidelines for a while.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Government officials from coast to coast say they’re ready to consider lifting the stay-at-home directives that have strangled the restaurant industry, but the conversations suggest the industry won’t be among the first to resume normal operations.

The mayor of Seattle explicitly said as much in airing her thoughts to the media. Jenny Durkan said she’s starting to work on a reopening plan but won’t pull the trigger until infections start to drop. And at that point, she said, the city may OK the reopening of businesses on an industry-by-industry basis. The first, she said, is likely to be construction. And one of the last? Restaurants, she said.

Durkan also raised the possibility of going market by market rather than issuing broad suspensions of stay-at-home directives.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has acknowledged to reporters that he’s already meeting with representatives of various industries to draft a plan for restarting his state’s economy. He would not reveal which ones have provided input.

The governor confirmed to Crain’s Chicago Business that he’s reached out to his counterparts in neighboring states to begin plotting a regional strategy for allowing businesses to reopen and consumers to resume their pre-COVID-19 spending habits.

The Midwest would be the third region to take up that collaborative approach. Yesterday, the governors of seven Northeastern states announced that they have started working on a regional plan for returning to economic normality. Included in the discussions will be business-development and economic specialists from each state as well health officials and politicians.

The coalition is made up of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware and Massachusetts.

Despite leading the group’s formation, New York continues to adapt new responsibilities for restaurants. As of tomorrow evening at 8, active restaurant workers there will be required to wear employer-supplied masks to avert the spread of the coronavirus from employee to patron or vice-versa.

Shortly after the Northeast reopening alliance was revealed, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would similarly work with his counterparts in Oregon and Washington.

In follow-up TV appearances today, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown revealed no details about a possible reopening strategy, but confirmed that business shutdowns would likely proceed on an industry-by-industry basis, as well as local market by local market. And she stressed that the process could be reversed if easing social distancing practices should trigger a spike in infections.

Newsom said today that the reopening process will be more like turning the dial on a dimmer control than flicking an on/off light switch. He also aired the possibility of imposing special requirements on restaurants, such as using disposable menus, taking customers' temperatures as a condition of entering, and requiring the staff to wear masks.

President Trump has voiced his feeling that the economy could be reopened for commerce by May 1. But he was blasted for assuming he has the constitutional power to lift state stay-at-home directives.

The president said he will appoint a task force today to plan a reopening of the economy on a region-by-region basis. Trump said the advisory group will include “the greatest minds” and will help him plot a jump-start of the economy. Deciding when to begin the process will be “the biggest decision” in his life, the president said.  

The flurry of U.S. activity comes as a number of countries that were hit earlier by the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to lift their social distancing measures.

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