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Accurate numbers of the restaurants that closed permanently during the first lockdown have not yet been tabulated, but talk of a second lockdown understandably has the industry in a panic.

Today, the National Restaurant Association sent a letter to the National Governors Association (NGA) noting there is no scientific evidence linking restaurants to the increase in COVID-19 cases and urging them to consider policies and regulations that will enable the industry to safely serve their communities for the duration of the pandemic.

To date, a systemic outbreak of COVID-19 has not been found coming from the hundreds of thousands of restaurants around the country that operate within the Association’s  COVID-19 Safe Operating Guidance and follow the guidelines of local public health safety regulations.

The letter noted that restaurants have enhanced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code practices with the Association’s Guidance to require face coverings for staff, request face coverings for guests, add more frequent hand sanitizing, provide guests with hand sanitizers, and increase frequency of cleaning and sanitizing high-touch surfaces. Restaurants also updated floorplans to ensure social distancing of at least six feet between guests while in a restaurant.

“There is an unfounded impression that restaurants are part of the problem, and we are suffering as a result of inconsistent, restrictive mandates,” said Tom Bené, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association in the letter. “Data tying systemic community outbreaks of COVID-19 to restaurants has yet to emerge, but we are too commonly labelled as ‘super-spreaders,’ and have become a convenient scapegoat for reflexive shutdowns.”

As governors determine whether socially facing businesses like restaurants should be closed or scaled back, the Association urged them to take the following suggestions into consideration:

  • Regulations and decisions regarding restaurant operations that are based on facts and contact-tracing data, not hypothetical simulations of transmission.
  • When restrictive regulations are imposed, such as capacity restrictions or shutdowns, it should be clear what health metrics must be achieved to return to the previous level.
  • Restaurant operations should be treated the same as other retail establishments. Shutting down indoor dining should be considered a last option.
  • If a shutdown is mandated, restaurants should be recognized as essential businesses and remain open for off-premises sales (e.g., takeout, delivery, and drive-through), as well as outdoor dining.
  • Restaurants should receive as much advance notice as possible of changing regulations.