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Dining rooms are reclosed in more areas as COVID cases soar

California has suspended dine-in service statewide, and other jurisdictions, including Texas, say they may have to take that route to temper the surge.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants are being directed to reclose dining rooms in many of the industry’s key markets as the tally of new COVID-19 soars to unprecedented levels.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom orderedall  restaurants in his state to close their dining rooms today until further notice, whileceasing all operations at bars, including to-go and outdoor service.

Atlanta has ordered restaurants to suspend dine-in service for a second time as of Friday, joining Los Angeles, Miami and Pittsburgh. A number of other major cities, including New York and San Francisco, have pushed back the reopening of dining rooms indefinitely.

Louisiana suspended bars’ sale of drinks for on-premise consumption as of today. Drinking establishments can continue selling alcohol for takeout and delivery.

The mayor of Houston, where hospitals say they’ve reached capacity, called Saturday for shutting most businesses and reordering residents to shelter in place for two weeks. But Sylvestor Turner noted that he is legally handcuffed from imposing the second lockdown because Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has pre-emptive authority, and the governor has limited his emergency measures to closing bars and imposing a 50% capacity limit on restaurants statewide.

Abbott said in a flurry of media interviews at the end of last week that he doesn’t foresee a near-term re-lockdown of his state, the nation’s second largest restaurant market. But he acknowledged that he’s considering the move, citing a vexing refusal of residents to wear masks as they’re now required under a recent emergency order from the state chief executive. Law-enforcement officials in some jurisdictions that they do not intend to enforce the mask requirement.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has cited eight counties as hotbeds of coronavirus infections, and has warned that she may direct those jurisdictions to re-close businesses if the spike doesn’t flatten.

A number of jurisdictions have already taken actions to counter a nationwide tripling of daily coronavirus infections. New Mexico, for instance, suspended dine-in service, and Arizona rolled back the capacity caps on indoor dining to 50% of seating. A number of areas have set earlier times for restaurants and bars to close or cease drink sales, hoping to discourage patrons from gathering into groups.

The flurry of activity at state, county and municipal levels comes as national health authorities warn that decisive actions are needed to halt the upsurge in new COVID cases.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last week that states seeing a steep rise in cases should shut restaurants or order them reconfigured to ensure social distancing. He later walked back that recommendation, saying infections could be decelerated again by merely slowing states’ schedules for restarting their economies.

The Trump administration has indicated that it has no intention of encouraging re-shutdowns. The president has maintained that the United States is leading the world in its efforts to counter the pandemic. The White House issued a briefing over the weekend that disparages Fauci’s credibility and expertise, and has taken several steps to pressure educational institutions to open in the fall.

The daily rate of new coronavirus infections in the U.S. hit 60,000 last week for the first time. In April, new cases hovered around 20,000 per day.

UPDATED: This story was updated to include California's directive post publication time to shut restaurant dining rooms statewide. 

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