Citing data from public health agencies they say show that dining in Washington restaurants is safe during the pandemic, the state association representing hospitality industries urged Gov. Jay Inslee not to order new closures as coronavirus cases climb.
“We are seeing that the true impact of this is around households and social gatherings,” Anthony Anton, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Hospitality Association, told reporters Friday.
Returning to restrictions prohibiting in-person dining would result in a loss of 100,000 jobs in the state, Anton said, and would come without the additional unemployment insurance and paycheck protection loans that the federal government previously provided but have now expired.
The request was made as Inslee is reportedly mulling additional restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has been worsening in Washington as well as throughout the country in recent weeks. Several other states and major metropolitan areas are announcing additional restrictions on restaurants and bars in an effort to slow transmission, including Idaho and Oregon.
Many of those measures, including mandatory masks, earlier closing times and spacing of tables, have been in place since restaurants were allowed to reopen dining rooms earlier this year, Anton said.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in September found that, of 314 coronavirus-positive patients interviewed at 11 medical centers across the country, they were twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than those that didn’t. The study’s authors noted that 42% of those who tested positive reported close contact with someone who was also diagnosed with COVID-19, and that a majority of those contacts were with family members.
The association received public data from health districts in Pierce, Walla Walla and Clark counties indicating that the number of cases that could be traced to exposure at restaurants was fewer than 1%. That counters the national narrative of outbreaks at food service locations, and is a testament to collaboration between the state’s restaurants and public health agencies to keep eateries safe, Anton said.
He also said that the state’s outbreak report, published weekly by the Department of Health, included all instances of two people testing positive in the same building, and that infection may not have occurred at work but elsewhere. The most recent report lists 151 outbreaks discovered at restaurants since the pandemic began.
“The outbreak report doesn’t show a link to that restaurant, it just said two or more people had it, that worked there in the same time frame,” Anton said.
The association predicts that roughly 35% of the state’s restaurants will close even without more restrictive measures that would cut revenue, Anton said. The list of restaurants that have closed in Spokane already includes neighborhood bars and grills and longtime destination spots, and Anton said it’s difficult to say who’s shuttered right now for good, and who has closed temporarily.
“We’re working really hard at that number,” Anton said, adding that the association was hoping to bring in more people to survey business owners and determine their status. “I so would love to have it, because I think it helps us make decisions.”
While the need for better liability protection, as has been advocated for by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is in the “top 10” of concerns for hospitality businesses statewide, Anton said the biggest need from the federal government right now is additional assistance like the Paycheck Protection Program loans handed out earlier this year.
“I would say, right now, the survival instinct in this industry is just right at its edge,” Anton said. “So most of the conversations are ‘I’m out of cash, we’re out of cash.’ ”
Restaurant revenue is down 34% from prepandemic levels, Anton said, based on figures reported by the Washington Commerce Department. Hotels are facing an even more dire situation, with revenue down 72%.
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