Editorial: Use caution in reopening restaurants

Customer John Crown, of Shelton, left, pays for his order at Super Duper Weenie in Fairfield on Wednesday May 13. The restaurant is planning to move some picnic tables from an inner courtyard into its parking lot to provide outdoor seating for the resumption of dine-in eating on May 20.

No one questions why restaurateurs are urging the governor to move quickly to allow indoor dining to resume. With outdoor accommodations set to reopen in less than a week, and with everything other than takeout and delivery impermissible since mid-March, owners and employees alike are eager to take steps toward a full reopening.

Gov. Ned Lamont, for his part, is listening, and said Wednesday that if the proper procedures for outside service are followed, diners might be allowed to eat inside by June 20 or earlier. But that intermediate period will be key. State leaders must wait and watch the process of eating food and serving diners outside before they make any commitments on moving forward. The consequences of a misjudgment could be severe.

Towns and cities need to do what they can to make outdoor dining more accessible. If there are public spaces that could be used for outdoor tables in the vicinity of a restaurant, municipalities need to make them available. If people are going to practice social distancing while eating out, they’re going to need the space to do it right.

As Lamont has made clear, the health risks for inside dining vs. outside are different. It’s why people around the state are being asked to wear masks inside buildings where they are likely to encounter other people, but public health experts are less concerned about people wearing masks outside. Confined spaces add to the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

As a side note, it can’t be stated often enough that the decision to wear a mask does not need to be a political statement. The virus doesn’t care about your politics. Yet too many people seem to think being asked to wear a mask is some form of tyranny, as if the point were to take people’s rights away.

The point, it’s worth reiterating, is to keep people from getting sick. A mask isn’t foolproof, but it is a measure that can help reduce the spread of COVID-19, and is not especially burdensome.

At the same time, needs are increasing. Food banks have said they’re in need of donations as more people are out of work, and charities are being pushed to the brink. Every aspect of the economy is in a dangerous place, and there is little indication that the situation is due for a reversal in the near term.

As for restaurants, anticipation is high in advance of the launch of outdoor dining, and the latest jobless figures show why. With millions of people unemployed, the urge to restart the economy is understandable, and the longer the closures last, the less chance of a quick economic turnaround. The economic pain is legitimate and significant.

But the dangers are significant, too. With more than 3,000 deaths in Connecticut alone, the human toll has been staggering, and it’s impossible to say how much worse it would have been had businesses and schools not been closed for the past few months. As we slowly make moves to reopen the economy, we need to make sure we don’t find out.

Connecticut Media Group