Russ Walker/PA Post
Restaurants and bars across Pennsylvania are hurting, restricted to operating at just 25 percent capacity for indoor service. Anyone who’s ever worked in food and bar service knows that setting such a low capacity doesn’t provide enough customer turnover to pay staff and vendors. Forget breaking even. For many owners, the 25 percent capacity ceiling is a recipe for losing money.
State and local health officials have tied the recent resurgence of coronavirus infections to gatherings in restaurants and bars after the first set of restrictions were eased in late May and June. But some critics say the strict rules handed down by Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine aren’t supported by data.
Show us the data tying the recent rise in cases to bar and restaurant patrons, the critics say. Brian Sheehan, a reporter at Harrisburg’s CBS 21, is leading that charge, filing a public records request with the state for all data that was used to justify the 25 percent indoor capacity rule handed down on July 15.
The head of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association told Sheehan that he doesn’t understand what the capacity rule is based on. “The virus responds to social distancing, face masking, and certain other safety and disinfectant protocol, but the virus doesn’t know about fire code capacities,” he said, adding that most restaurants are practicing social distancing, requiring servers to wear masks, and thoroughly sanitizing everything from restrooms to chairs and tables..
It’s impossible to ignore the pleas coming from the industry. We all want to get back to normal, to go to dinner at a favorite restaurant or watch a game at the local bar. And perhaps it’s unfair to blame them for the resurgence of the virus. After all, plenty of people are gathering in other ways, from backyard parties to youths sports leagues to street protests.
How do we bend the curve back toward zero? The science is pretty darn clear: Wear a mask in public.
New York Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. looks at the complexity of containing the epidemic in a big story published Wednesday. This section makes the case for masks:
“[Coronavirus] is extremely transmissible, through not just coughed droplets but also a fine aerosol mist that is expelled when people talk loudly, laugh or sing and that can linger in indoor air. As a result, masks are far more effective than scientists once believed.
In The Atlantic, staff writer Derek Thompson says while it’s true that the virus isn’t easily spread from touching surfaces, the airborne spread is real. Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told Thompson: “My point is not to relax, but rather to focus on what matters and what works. Masks, social distancing, and moving activities outdoors. That’s it. That’s how we protect ourselves. That’s how we beat this thing.”
So when attention-seeking politicians like state Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) make a big show of not wearing a mask, know that he and his fellow travelers are selfishly keeping us all from being able to resume normal life. The best thing for restaurants and bars is to contain the virus enough that they can reopen at 100 percent capacity.
How do we do that? By WEARING A MASK, that’s how!
PA Post is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom covering politics and policy in Pennsylvania. For more, go to PaPost.org.