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Restaurant group calls on governors to make closing indoor dining 'a last option'

Restaurant group calls on governors to make closing indoor dining 'a last option'
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The restaurant industry is urging governors to avoid indoor dining closures when making decisions to scale back businesses while coronavirus cases are surging.

The National Restaurant Association sent a letter to the National Governors Association on Tuesday, saying there is no scientific evidence linking restaurants to coronavirus cases. 

“To date, we have not found any systemic outbreaks of COVID-19 from the hundreds of thousands of restaurants around the country that operate within the Association’s guidance and follow local public health and safety regulations,” wrote Tom Bené, the association’s CEO.

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Cities like San Francisco and Chicago recently shut down indoor dining and Oregon limited restaurants to delivery and take-out only for two weeks. New York required indoor and outdoor dining establishments to close at 10 p.m. and New Jersey required indoor dining to end at 10 p.m.

Bené urged governors to consider regulations regarding restaurant operations that are based on facts and contact tracing and that restaurants are treated like retail establishments.

“Shutting down indoor dining should be considered a last option,” Bené wrote. “If a shutdown is mandated, restaurants should be recognized as essential businesses and remain open for off-premise sales (e.g., takeout, delivery, and drive-through), as well as outdoor dining.”

He also asked that if regulations are imposed, it should be clear what health metrics must be achieved to return to the previous level of operation, and that restaurants receive advance notice on changing regulations. 

“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,” Bené wrote. 

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He stressed that the industry is struggling during the pandemic. The National Restaurant Association estimates the industry will lose $240 billion in revenue this year.

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight health care: AstraZeneca says its COVID-19 vaccine candidate is up to 90 percent effective It's time for COVID-19 disaster relief ... for mothers Fauci: US could see 'well over 300,000' COVID-19 deaths MORE, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told NBC in September, “If you go indoors in a restaurant, whatever capacity, 25, 50 percent, or what have you, indoors absolutely increases the risk.” 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists “on-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating,” with seating capacity not reduced and tables not spaced, as the highest risk activity in a restaurant or bar setting, in part because masks must come off when people eat and drink.

Dining indoors and outdoors with seating capacity reduced and tables spaced is considered risky, while on-site dining limited to outdoor seating is less risky. The lowest risk is limiting food service to drive-thru, delivery, takeout and curbside pick-up, according to the CDC.