Gov. Brown's COVID-19 restrictions shutter Bend businesses

Dan McCoy, owner of Avid Cider Co., sits alone at the bar with his dog, Brew, on Tuesday, March 17, the first day of sweeping orders from Gov. Kate Brown to close restaurants and bars to dine-in business for four weeks. 

Oregon’s restaurant industry is accepting some points, but rejecting others, in the state’s proposed guidance for reopening after six weeks of state-ordered closures and curtailments prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Draft guidelines for restaurants, retailers and child care services — plus the general public and employers — were made public Thursday, April 30.

Back on March 23, Gov. Kate Brown barred dine-in service at restaurants and bars, and limited them to takeout and delivery services, as part of an executive order.

The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association urged Brown to allow one to two weeks for restaurants and bars to prepare for a first phase of reopening. Brown has not yet offered a date for when it might happen. She said previously that widespread testing for the virus and contact tracing of infected people must precede any resumption of public life and business activity.

One point the association disagrees with was absent from the specific guidance for restaurants — that businesses obtain information from customers for potential future contact tracing, if the need arose — but it was proposed as one of the general suggestions for employers.

“We are adamantly opposed,” said a letter signed by Jason Brandt, the association’s chief executive. “We understand the value of contact tracing documentation, but do not believe it is in the best interests of the state or operators to require a form be signed by customers. Policies that set up scenarios where employees and customers engage in confrontational behavior is highly concerning.”

Brandt said later that a working group of restaurant operators had put forth six simple ideas, most of which were made part of the draft guidance. But a week later, the draft got far more detailed, possibly as a result of comments from the governor’s medical advisory panel and the Oregon Health Authority.

The association also took issue with a proposed curfew of 10 p.m. for consumption of food and alcohol. It said that while it was “well-intentioned,” an early curfew could result in more crowding instead of social distancing, which the association does support.

“The result could be problematic, as opposed to the alternative of providing the necessary time and space needed to operate safely for both employees and guests,” the letter said.

Although the draft guidance does endorse the association’s support for 6 feet to maintain social distancing, it also proposes that restaurants remove seating and limit occupancy to 50% of capacity. The association says the latter steps are unnecessary.

“We can cordon off tables and seating to ensure associated parties and employees maintain 6 feet of distance during Phase One,” the letter said. “We also need flexibility in approaching seating, which happens quickly when customers are directed to their seats.”

The draft guidance does endorse association proposals for limiting parties to 10 people — they do not have to be 6 feet apart while at their own table — and consider assigning a single employee per party to take orders, serve food and beverages, and bring the check.

It also accepted association recommendations that customers should make reservations or call in advance to ensure there is seating, and they have systems such as properly spaced lines or restaurant-supplied buzzers to inform them when they can be seated.

The draft guidance and the association disagreed about seating at bars and the use of self-serve soda machines. The association argues that social distancing can be maintained at bars, where restaurant customers are sometimes seated, and that self-serve soda machines can be operated safely. The draft guidance also proposes that buffets, salad bars and growler-fill stations be off-limits to customers.

The association says it supports increased sanitation and face coverings for employees, although the draft guidance drops a proposal for employee masks to be supplied by their employers.

As for video lottery terminals — virtually all of which are in restaurants, bars and taverns, and account for more than 70% of Oregon Lottery proceeds — the association says the draft guidance is too restrictive on resuming their use. Most terminals have been shut off since March 17, so the Oregon Lottery, restaurants and bars have been deprived of money.

“If video lottery terminals cannot be spaced at least 6 feet apart, partitions which can be cleaned and sanitized after every use would promote player safety,” the letter said.

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