It's certainly a dicey subject across the nation, and there's still far too little data to say for certain whether indoor restaurant dining is a recipe for disaster in this pandemic, or a mitigated risk. But locally, San Francisco restaurateurs see the end of October as a potential turning point if they can't bring in more business by then.
As it stands, there is no date for indoor dining to resume, though today Mayor London Breed and Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax gave some quotes to the SF Business Times on Monday that show a glimmer of hope.
"Hopefully there will be information on that sooner rather than later," said Breed. "We are working right now to try and come up with a very creative solution to allow some level of indoor dining which we’re hopeful will happen."
And Colfax answered a question about indoor dining during the mayor's Tuesday press conference saying, "We are working with restaurant industry stakeholders to determine what safer reopening might look like, what that capacity might be. And we'll hopefully have more information to share on any type of reopening for indoor restaurants."
Laurie Thomas, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association who's been advocating for the industry for months now, tells the Business Times that it's getting to be scary for many restaurant owners. "It has to happen before November or people will close," she says. "No one has any money anymore."
As SFist reported last week, nearly 70 restaurants in San Francisco have announced permanent closures since March, and likely dozens more have closed without making any public statements about it.
Thomas says that no one is discussing legal action just yet, but the idea isn't off the table. Gym owners in New York State successfully won the right to reopen by filing a class-action lawsuit against state officials. And the owners of boutique gyms and fitness studios in San Francisco banded together in July to lobby for their right to reopen, which came after weeks of protest, threats of legal actions, and comments in the press just this week.
Also in New York, earlier this month, New York City restaurateurs filed a class-action suit agains Governor Andrew Cuomo claiming "irreparable harm" from the pandemic shutdown and ongoing closure of indoor dining.
Countering all that is a study published by the CDC last week that looked at trends in contact tracing and interviews with COVID-positive patients in 10 states, and it found that people who turned up COVID-positive were twice as likely to say they had dined at a restaurant in the previous 14 days than those who tested negative. As CNN notes, the problem with the study is that these same people reported going to bars and coffeeshops, and the sampling of patients came from states with a wide range of difference in how restaurants are operating — indoor vs. outdoor, etc. It also had a very small sample — 314 adults, 154 who tested positive and 160 who tested negative.
Still, Colfax said Tuesday that this study "gives us pause," and the Santa Clara County Public Health Department has said that the study "confirms that eating out is one of the riskiest activities for COVID-19."
Photo: Jay Wennington