Ohio, New York slate shutdown if coronavirus infections fail to slow

The advisories came as California suspended dine-in service in highly populated San Diego County.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The governors of Ohio and New York warned on Wednesday that foodservice operations in their states will be required to reduce or eliminate dine-in service again if less extreme efforts to bring down COVID-19 infection rates are not immediately effective.

Restaurants in San Diego and its surrounding county have already been given the directive to suspend indoor table service as of Saturday, the result of runaway infection rates in that southern portion of the state. Eateries there will still be able to offer takeout, delivery and outdoor dining under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s system for assessing the health risk within a region.

The warnings from Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York raised the possibility of dine-in service once again being suspended state by state, as that core form of operation was disrupted at the start of the pandemic. Currently, Illinois is the only state that has re-prohibited indoor on-premise service, a fact the Illinois Restaurant Association is underscoring in a social media campaign intended to muster public opposition to the re-shutdown by Gov. Jay Pritzker. Consumers there say a noticeable number of restaurants are not abiding by the Democrat’s directive.

DeWine warned that Ohio would follow suit next Thursday if infection rates aren’t tempered. In a televised address, the Republican directed his warning not at restaurants but at citizens of the state. He urged them to wear a mask, frequently wash their hands and avoid get-togethers, even of their own families.

He also announced that retailers will now be held accountable for any lapse in mask-wearing by their customers or employees. If anyone is found without a face covering in a store, the establishment will initially get a written warning. A second offense will result in an immediate shutdown of the establishments for at least 24 hours, DeWine said.

The governor said that he intends to form an enforcement group to ensure compliance.

He observed that ensuring masks are worn at all times by everyone in a restaurant is unfeasible because a face covering doesn’t allow for eating and drinking. “If the current trend continues and [COVID] cases keep increasing, we will be forced to close restaurants, bars and fitness centers,” DeWine said Wednesday afternoon. “We will look at this one week from tomorrow.

“I am very well aware of the burden this will place on employees. I am well aware of the burden this places on the owners,” DeWine continued. But the alternative, he said, is an ongoing surge in infections, hospitalizations and casualties. “Too many of our fellow citizens are still dying,” he remarked.

New COVID cases soared in Ohio to a record of more than 6,000 on Tuesday and a near tie of 5,900 on Wednesday, both multiples of the daily totals typically recorded at the height of past coronavirus waves.  “This surge is much more intense, widespread and dangerous,” DeWine said.

Like DeWine, Cuomo noted that enforcement of mask mandates for restaurant guests is complicated by their need to remove the face coverings while eating and drinking. “You only take down the mask to eat or drink, but what happens is that setting is very hard to police,” the governor said during a press conference yesterday. “You can make rules, but the rules are only as good as the enforcement. Period.”

Calling restaurants “identified spreaders,” he lowered his midnight curfew on restaurant service to 10 p.m. He also banned gatherings even in private homes of more than 10 people.

If those and limitations on other businesses fail to flatten New York’s spike in coronavirus infections, the state will "turn the valve more, and part of that would be reducing the number of people in indoor dining," Cuomo said.

Most restaurants in New York City are permitted to use up to 25% of their indoor dining space. The exceptions are places in specific neighborhoods with inordinately high rates of infections.

Elsewhere in the state, establishments can use up to 50% of their indoor seating.

The governors’ warnings were issued as the industry musters criticisms of a new Stanford University study that found restaurants and cafes to be “superspreaders” of the coronavirus.