Though no date has yet been announced for when California restaurants — in some counties — may begin to reopen and start dine-in service again, Governor Newsom today unveiled some initial guidelines for restaurant owners to begin thinking about. And it's going to involve, at least, paper menus, tables that aren't pre-set, and the frequent disinfecting of doorknobs, bus tubs, and more.
Newsom's comments today in his daily press briefing came with the release of this 12-page document, written in collaboration by Cal-OSHA and the state's Department of Public Health. It lays out how workers at dine-in restaurants, wineries, breweries, brewpubs, and bars will need to be protected as the state begins allowing some businesses to open up. But it makes clear that, at least as a first step, "alcohol can only be sold in the same transaction as a meal," which means bars with no food can't open for quite a while after this next phase — although exceptions can be made for bars, wineries and breweries that want to contract with a food vendor or have a food truck park outside.
"There have been multiple outbreaks in a range of workplaces, indicating that workers are at risk of acquiring or transmitting COVID-19 infection," the guideline document says. "Examples of these workplaces include long-term care facilities, prisons, food production, warehouses, meat processing plants, and grocery stores. As stay-at-home orders are modified, it is essential that all possible steps be taken to ensure the safety of workers and the public."
As KPIX reports, the new guidelines include common-sense protocols about clearing and cleaning all dishware, utensils, and glassware used by all customers, and the frequent sanitizing of high-traffic areas. Also, credit card and ATM terminals, light switches, waiting area chairs, and all door handles will require frequent disinfecting.
And all of this is moot for now for many of the 58 counties across California, where lockdown orders are very much in place and officials are only barely nearing a Phase 2 of reopening. But the reason Newsom is discussing it now is because of the diversity of pandemic conditions across so many counties — some of which are rural and have seen very few, or no, COVID cases thus far. The criteria for moving into Phase "2.5," which includes dine-in restaurants with modifications, will include a county having zero COVID deaths for two weeks, and less than 1 active case per 10,000 residents, as Newsom discussed last week. (The first half of Phase 2 includes the opening of some retail for curbside pickup and some offices and manufacturing, which the Bay Area may begin doing next week.)
"I don’t anticipate every one of the 27 counties that we’ve engaged with already, the four that we will be engaging with this afternoon, all will be able to self-attest [to certain reopening criteria], and I know this is a point of concern and consternation,” Newsom said today. He mentioned, by example, that Kern County had asked state officials to "consider to allow a modification of sorts, based upon data, based on science, based upon their unique circumstances where we can apply some flexibility."
In addition to various new cleaning procedures, restaurants are encouraged to keep kitchen workers at separate work stations, to keep tables at least six feet apart, and make employee breaks staggered. Restaurants that haven't typically taken reservations are being encouraged to start doing so so that proper cleaning of tables can occur between parties.
Restaurants are also being asked to "Consider installing portable high-efficiency air cleaners, upgrading the building’s air filters to the highest efficiency possible, and making other modifications to increase the quantity of outside air and ventilation in all working areas." This may include the use of ultraviolet light technology that's been used in hospitals for decades and has been shown to be highly effective at killing airborne pathogens.
Among the good news in the report: To-go cocktails are here to stay! At least for now. On the last page of the report it says, "Licensed restaurants may sell “to-go” alcoholic beverages, prepared drinks, and pre-mixed cocktails provided they are sold and delivered to customers in conjunction with the sale and delivery of a meal/meals."
Also, restaurants are being encouraged to take over sidewalks and more outdoor spaces in order to create more distance and offer more outdoor seating. This follows on a request by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association last week for San Francisco to allow such moves, letting restaurants take over plazas, street parking spaces, and other public spaces when they are given the go-ahead to reopen, so that they can increase table capacity outside indoor dining areas.
In chilly SF, this will hopefully come with a lot more heat lamps.