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NEVADA VIEWS: New restrictions will further decimate Nevada restaurant industry

It’s the holiday season, and the virus is having its way. It can be blocked by lockdowns, social-distancing and masks. But short of herd immunity through vaccines and its natural progression through people, the virus cannot be defeated.

Although vaccinations will begin soon, experts state it will take time under the best of scenarios for the vaccines to take hold. This means government restrictions are likely to be with us for months to come when and where infection rates rise to unacceptable levels. This also means restaurants will continue to absorb some of the greatest economic hits. According to the National Restaurant Association, nearly one in six restaurants in the United States has closed either permanently or long-term as a result of ordered shutdowns, affecting approximately 3 million workers.

The negative impact on restaurants is very real. I was in a local establishment the night before Nevada’s new restrictions limiting restaurant capacity were to go in effect, and I experienced firsthand the angst restaurant purveyors are feeling. While paying for my take-out order, the owner expressed great concern over the new restrictions — at 25 percent capacity he told me he could barely pay bills. But he became even more animated over the requirement for reservation-only customers. The current requirements state that reservations are required for restaurants and bars, pubs, wineries and breweries that serve food.

Does this mean it’s legal for a restaurant to have more patrons at a given time than another restaurant, say one next door, just because one can show a reservation log and the other can’t? Trying to the understand the logic, I reached out to the Nevada Restaurant Association. The NRA clarified that the reservation-only mandate is a one-size-fits-all approach to deter the gathering of people in waiting areas.

The NRA also clarified that the restaurant industry in Nevada is being decimated. It estimates that 15 percent of restaurants have closed permanently because of COVID-19 restrictions and that up to 30 percent may close by year’s end — and that’s at 50 percent capacity. If accurate, that means more than 1,700 businesses could ultimately close with tens of thousands of jobs lost, with many more falling into the abyss at the 25 percent mandate.

The Nevada Restaurant Association is crying “foul” and for good reason. It’s pleading a case to Gov. Steve Sisolak to allow restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity while employing COVID-19 safety measures. This is a good argument. The country is divided as to how safety measures are implemented. According to the business data platform Statista, Nevada ranks 21st in coronavirus prevalence, with 4,700 cases per 100,000 population. Yet, Tennessee ranks 12th with 5,160 cases per 100,000 population and its restaurants are allowed to operate as long as they demonstrate proper distancing and sanitation rules. The same is true for Iowa, which ranks third with 7,078 cases per 100,000 people. There’s no arguing the politics of it all — Tennessee and Iowa have Republican governors.

But there’s something else in favor of the NRA’s argument in support of restaurants operating at 50 percent. Recent contact tracing data in California has raised many questions about where and at what rate infections occur and spread. According to Kathryn Barger, chair of Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, public health officials have reported that only 10 percent to 15 percent of positive cases reported dining out with someone who tested positive, compared with 50 percent who reported being with someone who tested positive in a private social gathering. This supports her case that the restaurant industry is unfairly targeted for harsher measures.

The science is not in, which is why Gov. Sisolak should support the recommendations of the Nevada Restaurant Association to allow restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity with no reservation mandate while implementing strict COVID-19 safety protocols. And the limit of four people per table should be changed to accommodate people living in the same household. A family of five should have as much right to eat at the same table as a family of four. What people need is more latitude to operate businesses responsibly. What people don’t need is more misery caused by additional restaurant closures.

Michael Raponi is a freelance writer in Carson City. Contact via email at michael.raponi@outlook.com.

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