American cities have tried to keep restaurants in business during the coronavirus pandemic by allowing food inside. With the virus spreading out of control across much of the country, the threat of an even greater public health disaster remains. There is ample evidence that the coronavirus can spread easily to people who eat indoors.
Yet even as the number of cases increases, politicians remain reluctant to protect public health through painful restrictions and instead rely on cosmetic measures in the hopes that they will appear to be doing something when they are effectively doing nothing.
A growing number of communities and states have curfewed restaurants and bars as if the virus were a vampire. Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom advised guests in his state to “keep the mask between bites.” That is absurd
The promising news of coronavirus vaccine trials gives cause for optimism that Americans will be able to safely eat again at their favorite restaurants sometime next year.
What the public interest requires for now is a suspension of indoor dining in areas where the virus is spreading, combined with government aid to keep restaurants in business.
The House has already passed a bill that fulfills this purpose. The RESTAURANTS Act – it’s an acronym, but we’re not going to bore you by its full name – would give grants of up to $ 120 billion to independent restaurants, small chain restaurants (with fewer than 20 locations), and catering firms. The allowance would cover the difference between last year’s income and annual income and could be used to cover most expenses, including payroll.
An upcoming Senate version supported by two parties would also help large chains. McDonald’s and its people don’t need the money, but it’s easy to imagine a deal.
Representative Earl Blumenauer, the Oregon Democrat who sponsored the House bill, said he was broken by the growing appeal for restaurant failure in his Portland district and pounded holes in the structure of his community. The money is intended to get restaurants through the winter, when outdoor dining is less durable in many parts of the country. “It’s a bridge to better weather,” he said.
Providing help to restaurants could also make it easier for cities to put food out indoors.
It is one of the key perversions of the country’s response to the pandemic that many cities have opened food indoors while schools are closed – with economic activity taking precedence over the wellbeing of children. Known for much of the fall as the rare big city where kids could still study in classrooms, New York City announced Wednesday that it would close its face-to-face learning schools even if the city allows people to be in Restaurants to eat. Drink in bars and work out in gyms.
Again: Children are allowed to eat in restaurants, but not study in classrooms.
The public interest urgently requires this pattern to be reversed. The United States should emulate European countries where schools last or never closed. Government aid to restaurateurs would make it easier for local leaders to justify bans on indoor eating. That alone wouldn’t completely control the virus or reopen schools, but it would help.
Public health officials have been warning for months that there is a clear link between eating indoors and the spread of the virus. JPMorgan Chase analysts showed that personal expenses in restaurants predict the number of coronavirus cases: more money, more problems. A new study published in the journal Nature used cell phone data to come to similar conclusions.
Of course, many other companies also need help. The workers also need help. State and local governments also need help. We have repeatedly called on Senate Republicans to approve a version of the comprehensive economic aid plan first approved by House Democrats in May. But it’s clear that won’t happen. Democrats can still take control of the Senate next year by winning two Georgia runoffs, but that’s not soon enough.
The virus resurgence is once again disrupting economic activity, and without government help the harsh reality is that many restaurants will not survive.
There is nothing to be gained by waiting until January or refusing to reach an agreement when an agreement seems possible. Congress may not be able to do the big things, but this is a clear opportunity to do something. Save the nation’s restaurants – and save lives.