States given guidelines on reopening dining rooms

The White House’s plan for restarting the economy calls for reactivating dine-in service in three phases, with safety checks before each.
Photograph: Shutterstock

If states follow the White House’s guidelines for restarting their economies, shuttered restaurant dining rooms could begin to reopen in some locations in a matter of days or weeks.

Several are already pushing hard to lift stay-at-home directives. Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a bill earlier this week that overturns Gov. Tom Wolf’s directive requiring restaurants to discontinue sit-down service, but the Democrat is widely expected to veto the measure. Congressional Republicans do not have enough votes to override the veto.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said today that he'll announce a date for easing social distancing in his state on April 27. The Texas Restaurant Association said it is planning an initiative called the Texas Restaurant Promise to outline how restaurants can serve customers indoors and out while following public health recommendations.

The guidelines aired yesterday by the White House set out a step-by-step process for reopening the national economy by giving states checkpoints to assess their readiness to lift business restrictions and social gathering bans. President Trump stressed in releasing his plan that states will make the decision on when they begin reopening, and suggested that some may choose to do so on a county-by-county basis.

Dining rooms are specifically referenced in each of three recommended phases. Essentially, the recommendations allow restaurants to gradually increase how many customers can occupy their dining rooms at any given time. In phase one, the guidelines state, dining establishments should follow “strict physical social distancing protocols.” That would involve keeping dine-in parties at least 6 feet apart and prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people.

Bars should remain closed during that phase, the White House said.

In phase two, the capacity cap rises to 50 people, and the social distancing measures can be relaxed to what the guidelines called “moderate protocols,” without defining that standard.

No capacity cap is set for phase three, and only limited social distancing protocols are recommended.

Before a state or county even gets to phase one, it should log 14 consecutive days of a decline in COVID-19 cases, according to the guidelines. In addition, hospitals should not have operated at a crisis level for at least two weeks.

Trump’s COVID-19 task force refers to those standards as the gating criteria. They should be met again before a jurisdiction progresses to phases two and three.

Although the gating process calls for an improvement ramp-up of 14 days, some states “are able to go literally tomorrow,” President Trump said Thursday night. He explained that those areas have already logged two weeks of declining cases and diminishing strain on their healthcare facilities.

He did not say which states he believes are ready to start reopening businesses and relaxing stay-at-home policies. Some states, including South Dakota and Iowa, never adopted forced social distancing.

The president has said he’d like to see the U.S. economy moving toward normal business activity by May 1.

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