On Monday, March 16, five major American cities, Dallas, Washington, D.C., New York, Houston and Denver, ordered the closure of restaurant dining rooms, bars, lounges and movie theaters. All five cities allowed their food service industries to transition to takeout, curbside pickup, drive-thru and delivery only.
But there was one critical difference between the five orders. Dallas is taking measures to stop the spread of coronavirus at a more rapid rate than the other cities.
Dallas County reported its first case of coronavirus March 10 and now has a total of 28. As early as March 5, a Washington suburb had three cases, and The Washington Post reports that a D.C. resident was suffering from the illness even earlier than that. By the time Dallas reported its first case of the virus, D.C. had reported 22 cases in an area with one-quarter of the population.
Houston reported its first two cases even earlier than D.C., on March 4, while Denver had its first confirmation on March 6. As for New York, it already has 463 patients and seven deaths; its first patient tested positive all the way back on March 1.
Dallas shut down most of its public spaces in just seven days. Washington and Houston each took almost twice that time, and New York dithered for so long that many restaurants, including Danny Meyer's celebrated empire of businesses, closed voluntarily rather than wait for government action.
Local restaurants are responding in all manner of creative ways to the shutdown, and we will report in detail on new takeout and delivery options in the coming days. BrainDead Brewing is planning a new meal prep program to allow customers to do their own menu planning; Homewood is starting a call-ahead farmer's market; Taco y Vino will sell a box of six tacos and one bottle of cava for $30; many restaurants, including all four owned by Julian Barsotti, are selling bottles of wine at retail prices.
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The Dallas service industry will suffer heavily from the new restrictions on dining and drinking. Restaurants are struggling to make payroll already, the state of Texas expects tax bills to be paid on time and several operators have told me their landlords expect rent payments to proceed as usual, too.
Government action to pause rent and loan payments would help ease some of the pain, but not all of it. But as hard as the shutdown decision may have been for Dallas leaders, they acted with greater urgency and speed than their colleagues in several other major cities. Dallas' government looks like a model of decision-making compared with New York's.
The lessons of coronavirus outbreaks in countries such as South Korea, Italy and France must be learned and applied rapidly if the disease is to be slowed. Rapid action to shut down public spaces and keep people separate is key.
It looks like Dallas is absorbing that lesson more quickly than many of its fellow American cities. We can only hope that the service industry's sacrifice will help to spare our hospitals from overcrowding, and our residents from illness.