“Rather than call on workers and customers to risk their lives for a livelihood and social experience that we all have been deprived of, we instead suggest that this energy and effort be directed at our government and its officials to do their job and protect this extremely important and equally vulnerable industry during this crisis.“
Not all businesses that offer in-door dining believe that now is the time to reopen. Some, such as the co-signers of the open letter below, have good reason to believe that the reopening is premature and unsafe. Here is the letter in full:
“To Patrons and Owners,
“On Monday, May 19th, we became aware of a letter written by a group of Rhode Island restaurants – calling themselves “The Ocean State Coalition” – imploring their guests to support new regulations that would allow for indoor, sit-down dining beginning on June 1st. In response, though, we would like to make it explicitly clear that the advocates for this position do not speak for all restaurants in our state or their workers. As owners and workers in the restaurant industry ourselves, we deeply understand the hardship that restaurants and bars have had to endure during this crisis. However, we believe that the course of action proposed by this group and backed by the state is irresponsible, short-sighted, and dangerous.
“First, this letter offers no specific plans to keep customers and workers safe, merely suggesting that it will be up to individual restaurants to be “more creative than ever.” The restless desperation that this letter conveys (though warranted) is antithetical to the patient and measured response required to keep our community members safe. We have been told consistently by experts in the medical community that the only way to prevent the virus from spreading is adequate social distancing, which is incompatible with packed bars and restaurants. A single, uncovered cough or sneeze can spread virus particles up to 27ft., potentially infecting dozens of customers and workers. This scenario can best be shown by the diagram below featured in a recent Forbes article about a dining experience in Guangzhou, China, where a single diner spread the virus to nine other customers. Or, for another example, look at South Korea where one man’s night out directly led to more than 70 new coronavirus infections and has reengaged a national containment crisis.
“The Ocean State Coalition wants to “serve you to the best of their abilities” – but despite good intentions, we do not believe that by June 1st their best efforts will be sufficient to protect against spreading the virus.
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“Second, restaurant industry workers are uniformly concerned for their futures, not only with regards to their employment, but also their health. This industry is notorious for various worker abuses and putting workers at risk during a pandemic is no exception. Additionally, as many restaurant workers don’t have health care, this situation adds costs to an already marginalized income. We believe that rather than asking restaurant workers to stick their necks out “for the good of the business,” we should consider health and safety before the bottom line. Ultimately, we are unwilling to be the cause of a single preventable death.
“Like the restaurants that formed The Ocean State Coalition and signed that letter, we too are facing deeply uncertain times. No matter how many times we run the numbers, the reality is that many restaurants and bars run on razor thin margins and our ability to operate and pay our workers a living wage is dependent upon big weekend nights where eager diners and drinkers fill up the space from open until close. Unfortunately, no matter how much we want it to be true, the logic of viral spread is undeterred by our hopes and wishes. In-person indoor dining simply will not be safe until there is either a vaccine, an effective anti-viral treatment, or Rhode Island’s test and trace infrastructure has developed to the point where the virus has been nearly eliminated from our community.
“Rather than call on workers and customers to risk their lives for a livelihood and social experience that we all have been deprived of, we instead suggest that this energy and effort be directed at our government and its officials to do their job and protect this extremely important and equally vulnerable industry during this crisis. Continued loan and grant support, rent and mortgage freezes, unemployment benefits, and private and public cooperation are the only sustainable way out of this that supports our community and also keeps them safe. We ask you to join us in our call for additional support from those in a position to do so, rather than prematurely sending workers and friends back into unsafe environments.”