In a bit of good news, COVID-related hospitalizations are down. That means fewer people are critically ill. It also means that our frontline medical workers can perhaps catch a breather.
Last October, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-32 mandating that any Trauma Service Area (TSA) that had seven consecutive days in which 15% of their total hospitalizations were COVID-19 related must reduce restaurants and retail capacity to 50%. This mandate was triggered for the Dallas area (TSA E) in early December.
The percentage dipped below 15% on Feb 10, and, as NBCDFW first reported, has stayed there since. After the seven-day threshold was met on Feb. 16, restaurants were allowed to open at 75% capacity.
Bars must still remain closed, but many reclassified their businesses as restaurants last summer, and this increase in capacity applies to those spaces as well.
But, you might want to hold off on that birthday brunch reservation. Even though restaurants are allowed to seat more customers indoors that doesn’t mean they have the space to do so; parties must still maintain 6 feet of distance. At 75% capacity, 6 feet apart isn’t a doable layout for most restaurants.
Then, there’s also the fact that we’re just barely below the 15% COVID-19 hospital threshold (11.2% on Feb. 23). And with the vaccine rollout continuing, it’s possible we’re rounding the final turn here. No one wants to flout safety protocols, paving the way back to higher hospitalization rates.
We spoke to Dallas restaurant owners, and it’s clear they struggle with adding more seats but still see this as a good sign.
“It’s hard to figure out what to do,” says Mike Snider with AllGood Cafe in Deep Ellum. “We always want to do the safest practices [and] at the same time serve as many folks as we can. Our maximum capacity was 100 before, now we can seat 75, which is way better than 50.”
Snider has a patio, which helps enormously since outdoor spaces aren’t included in the capacity restrictions. But, he sees cases trending down and is hopeful that with the vaccine folks will feel safer.
“They’ll still wear their masks and practice social distance and use hand sanitizers, etc. It just seems like we’ve turned a corner and with common sense and all the protocols, dine-in eating can be safe,” Snider says.
Sea Breeze Fish Market & Grill is a 3,000-square-foot neighborhood restaurant in Plano. Owner Rick Oruch says they might be able to add one table on a busy Friday night, but that’s really about it.
“The move to 75% will have a bigger impact on restaurants that are 5,000-plus square feet as they can accommodate more people,” Oruch says. “For us, we’re counting on more good weather as we’ll continue to move additional tables outdoor to accommodate additional guests.”
Nikky Phinyawatana, owner of Asian Mint, says her restaurants are small and they won’t be able to open many more tables, but, “This gives all of us great hope that things are moving in the right direction. Whether it is feasible or not, that all depends on the size of most restaurants. The sun is out, we’re feeling great, it’s time to celebrate these wins."
Owner of DIVE Coastal Cuisine, Franchesca Nor, says they took a pretty big hit when the snowstorm shut down much of the city last week, including Valentine’s Day and Fat Tuesday, usually lucrative days for restaurants. She'll take any bit of good news she can get. They’re playing with some ideas about how to include a couple more tables that will make a small, but positive difference in sales.
As we previously reported, the National Restaurant Association recently reported that eating and drinking places lost 2.5 million jobs last year due to the coronavirus; sales were down $240 billion. While the 25% capacity increase won’t fix things, it’s a good step.