HEALING OUR SMALL BUSINESSES: IT IS SAFE TO RESUME INDOOR DINING AND HOSPITALITY NATIONWIDE

HEALING OUR SMALL BUSINESSES: IT IS SAFE TO RESUME INDOOR DINING AND HOSPITALITY NATIONWIDE

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An AFLDS Issue Brief for Citizens, Policymakers and Physicians

STATEMENT OF POSITION The US labor market is showing early signs that it is on the mend. Ending needless lockdowns must be a priority to improve the economy and move the nation past the pandemic. Yet state and local governments continue to punish the dining and hospitality sectors with fluctuating capacity rules and increased costs, despite scientific and medical evidence that such measures are unnecessary. America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) calls on public health officials to immediately lift arbitrary limits on indoor dining and provide a much-needed economic boost to struggling small business owners and their employees. Over 110,000 restaurants and bars closed temporarily or permanently in 2020. The damage done to these businesses, without regard to facts or medical science, should also be a catalyst for class action litigation on the part of the food and beverage and hospitality industries.

RESTAURANTS ARE NOT TIED TO OUTBREAKS Although SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been spread inside restaurants and eateries, there is little evidence to link these establishments to viral clusters in states.· In Massachusetts, a total of 84 infections out of 23,888 known case clusters have been connected to restaurants – less than 1%.· Data from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health revealed that bars and restaurants had been responsible for less than 4% of coronavirus outbreaks there.· In New York state, restaurants and bars accounted for only 1.43 percent of COVID-19 cases recorded between September through the end of November. Households and social gatherings were responsible for almost 74% of cases during the same period.

UNREASONABLE REGULATIONS, HIGH COSTS According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry employs nearly 16 million Americans. Pandemic-related revenue losses totaled upwards of $240 billion in 2020. Government’s current path of business closures and restrictions followed by partial openings is financially unsustainable for these small business owners. The City of Philadelphia, for example, has required restauranteurs who want to expand indoor seating to pay for HVAC upgrades that could cost anywhere from a few hundred to $5,000 depending on the age of the building.Other proprietors have constructed so-called “streetery cabins” at great cost on sidewalks in order to keep their customers safe. In New York, fines for building these street-side enclosures without proper permitting can run up to $12,500. This is on top of the tens of thousands of dollars these cabins, greenhouses, “yurts,” and igloos cost their owners to install. There is no evidence that these moves, which create indoor spaces outside, have had any measurable impact on preventing the spread of COVID-19. Further, in New York City, Governor Cuomo has permitted reopenings starting February 14 at 25% capacity including staff. Other governments have mandated that televisions be removed or turned off in eating establishments. Neither of these regulations are backed by science.

CONCLUSION AFLDS supports an immediate end to the draconian lockdown measures that threaten the food and beverage industry and the millions of jobs it sustains.We favor following the science to reopen indoor dining safely at full capacity. In states and localities where these reopenings are banned by arbitrary executive rulemaking, America’s Frontline Doctors supports legal actions taken by various industry associations to argue that indoor-dining bans have not been equally applied to similar service-based businesses such as gyms and liquor stores. In our opinion, this is a matter of due process and freedom of contract as embodied in so-called “Lochner challenges” to unreasonable regulations down through the decades.The restaurant “apocalypse” can still be averted if appropriate measures are taken and public policy is prevented from artificially suppressing customer demand any longer. Information and other tools exist to safely reopen these small businesses, and we must use them without additional government interference.

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