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Washington requires restaurants to record guest visits

Operators will be required to maintain a log of who ate when for 30 days as a condition of reopening their dining rooms. New Orleans backed off what appeared to be a similar policy.
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Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants in the state of Washington will be required to maintain a 30-day log of all customers who have eaten on-premise, complete with email or telephone contact information, under the dining room reopening requirements aired Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

New Orleans proposed a similar reopening obligation last week for restaurants but backed away from the recommendation yesterday, saying it needed to review the specifics of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide restart plan.

The governor announced Monday that restaurants would be allowed to resume on-premise service as of Saturday at 25% of their pre-COVID-19 capacity. New Orleans officials say they may keep their city’s restaurants limited to takeout and delivery.

Customer records are a condition of resuming dine-in service in Washington. “This will facilitate any contact tracing that might need to occur,” explained a guidance document released by Inslee’s office. The stipulation refers to determining who may have come in contact with an individual who is diagnosed with COVID-19. To break the chain of contamination, those who were exposed would be tested or asked to self-quarantine.

Under the gradual reopening plan updated Monday by Inslee, restaurants in eight counties are able as of Tuesday to resume dine-in service at 50% of their pre-COVID-19 capacities, provided their safety plans meet government safety standards. A written reopening and operational plan is required.

Other counties with populations under 75,000 people that have not reported a new case of COVID-19 in the past three weeks can apply for a go-ahead to ease stay-at-home requirements under Phase 2 of Inslee’s plans. That step includes permitting restaurant dining rooms to reopen. Currently, eating places outside of the eight approved counties are limited to takeout and delivery.

Phase 1 commenced statewide May 5, and a minimum of three weeks is required under Inslee’s plan before businesses can progress to the next step of reopening. If the infection trends meet the thresholds set by the governor, reopenings could be permitted on a statewide basis at the end of May or in early June.

Most states that have OK’d the resumption of sit-down service have at least loosely followed the guidelines released several weeks ago by the federal government. A unique aspect of Washington’s process is the requirement that establishments draft a reopening and operational plan, including the processes for “providing materials, schedules and equipment required to comply.”

The standards also call for limiting a seated party’s interaction to one employee through the course of their stay. “It is strongly recommended that one staff person take a table’s order, bring all of their beverages/food/utensils, take their payment, etc.,” the guidelines read.

Parties are limited to five members, unlike the 10-guest cap set in many other states.

Most of the other provisions are similar to the safety protocols of other states. Buffets, salad bars and condiment stations must remain closed, as must bars. Parties have to be seated at least 6 feet apart. Outdoor seating is permitted, but at 50% of capacity.

The requirement that restaurants keep a list of customers served on-premise is likely to prove controversial because of privacy issues and the logistical challenge of maintaining such a log.

New Orleans’ guidelines for resuming dine-in service had initially included the provision to “Develop a plan to track the employees and clients in your space in case you are asked to assist in tracing the contacts of a sick individual.”

But civic officials backed away from that recommendation Monday. Health Director Jennifer Avegno said at a press conference that health officials would work with infected individuals to trace their contacts.

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