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COVID safety updates put peculiar obligations on restaurants

The novel requirements include keeping doors open, air conditioners on, and guests in masks for longer stretches.
Covid regulations
Photograph: Shutterstock

As COVID-19 infection rates move up or down in their areas, state and local governments are updating their safety requirements for restaurants, sometimes in novel if not downright peculiar ways.

Miami-Dade County, for instance, will allow restaurants to resume dine-in service as of Monday at 50% of their indoor seating capacities, but with a mandate that establishments keep their windows and doors open and their air conditioners constantly running. The requirements essentially outlaw the automatic settings on HVAC systems because the units tend to turn on and off to stay at a set temperature. Local officials say the measures will enhance the safety of guests by keeping the air moving inside dining rooms and dispersing tiny coronavirus-contaminated droplets that customers might otherwise inhale.

In addition, table-service customers will be prohibited from removing their facemasks until they’re served glasses of water. In many if not most states, patrons can remove their masks once they’re seated at a table. In Florida, patrons who ignore the requirement are subject to $500 fines.

Illinois is believed to be the first state to require that restaurant patrons wear a mask when speaking with a server, picking up a takeout order or otherwise interacting with a member of the staff. Although the obligation falls on consumers, restaurants will be expected to police the measure, Gov. Jay Pritzker indicated. The new policy was adopted with the support of the Illinois Restaurant Association, Pritzker said in announcing the new protocol on Monday.

Philadelphia will allow restaurants to reopen their dining rooms on Sept. 8 at 25% of their seating capacities. But places that resume dine-in service will be limited to four chairs per table, a measure intended to discourage guests from different households from socializing indoors.

Texas, the nation’s second largest restaurant market, is keeping barrooms closed. But state liquor authorities are helping taverns qualify as restaurants by allowing them to count food-truck and packaged-food sales as part of their food revenues. If a place generates 51% of its total intake from the sale of food, it qualifies as a restaurant and can resume on-premise operations.

Change seems to be the only constants to the revisions. New Mexico is expected to lift its ban on indoor restaurant dining as of Saturday. Places will be permitted to resume table service at 25% of pre-COVID seating levels. At the other end of the spectrum, Tuscaloosa, Ala., shut bars and suspended in-restaurant bar service on Monday for a two-week stretch after some 560 students of the University of Alabama tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of their new semester. Tuscaloosa is host to one of the university’s three campuses.

Restaurants in California, the industry’s largest market, are waiting to see what changes Gov. Gavin Newsom might make in his state’s safety protocols for restaurants and bars. Dine-in service was suspended for a second time by Newsom on July 13 because of a spike in new COVID-19 cases. Bars were closed outright unless they offered outdoor dining and sold alcohol exclusively as a complement to the food.

Louisiana was expected to ease some of its restrictions on restaurants and bars in coming days, but Gov. John Bel Edwards decided earlier this week to delay the changes because of the dual hurricanes that were barreling toward the state.  His decision will keep bars closed and restaurants at 50% of dining room c

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is also keeping to his previously imposed restrictions, including a 10 p.m. curfew on alcoholic beverage sales and a requirement that drinks be cleared from tables by 11 p.m.

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