Coronavirus

D.C.'s So-Called Reopen Plan Is a Suicide Pact for the Restaurant Industry

It's full of ill-conceived and contradictory guidance.

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On Thursday, the District of Columbia's task force on reopening the city finally unveiled its recommendations—in the form of a deeply unserious document filled with contradictory guidance and bad advice. Overly optimistic in some places while hopelessly naive in others, the report is woefully inadequate and should be discarded.

Most notably, the task force would all but require most restaurants in the district—and every bar and nightclub—to go out of business. The report also constrains child care services to such an absurd degree that the permissions granted to other sectors of the city to reopen hardly matter: What are working parents supposed to do with their young kids?

The task force was chaired by former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and it included several former mayors and current officials. So the perspective of the career bureaucrat was clearly well represented. The small business owner, not so much.

The report delineates three phases of gradual reopenings, followed by a fourth stage where most aspects of life can return to normal. Stage 4 does not ensue until a vaccine or effective cure for COVID-19 is available, so it takes place in a future that is a year away at best and possibly many years away. The other three stages are "declining virus transmission," "only localized transmission," and "sporadic transmission."

Where to begin? The guidance keeps all summer camps, schools, and child care services (except for critical workers) closed in stage one. Stage two lets summer camps resume but caps them at 10 kids per room if indoors and 50 kids if outdoors. Schools and day care centers can also reopen, but again with a 10-kids-a-room maximum in place. In stage three, summer camps can take up to 250 people for outdoor activities, but indoor activities are still 10 kids per room for camps, day cares, and schools. That's the new normal: no more than 10 kids in a room until there's a cure for COVID-19. If a day care facility can't operate under such limitations, it's out of luck.

This will have a ruinous effect not just on day care providers but on everyone who relies on them—i.e., tons of parents who work in other sectors of the economy. People who have to stay home to take care of their kids because the local day care, preschool, or kindergarten is artificially capped will not be returning to work anytime soon. Given the harmful second-order effects of restricting child care, and the comparative lack of coronavirus risk for children, smarter guidance would have made it a priority to reopen this sector.

For restaurants and night clubs, the guidance is virtually a suicide pact. Restaurants must operate under 50 percent reduced capacity through stage three. Bars and night clubs can't reopen at all until stage three, and then they have to abide by the 50 percent reduced capacity and an additional cap of 5 people per 1,000 feet.* (That will reduce a lot of places' customer bases well below 50 percent.) Again, these limitations are supposed to be endured, potentially, for years. Given the razor-thin margins in the food industry, it's not clear that many restaurants can even function under these constraints, which means the advisory committee is essentially instructing them to go out of business.

Then there are the random inconsistencies. In stage two, people are generally allowed to gather in groups of up to 50, but office spaces should remain at 25 percent capacity. (If an office employs fewer than 200 people, could it let 50 of them go to work under the gather rule? It's unclear.) Museums, movie theaters, and gyms can all reopen in stage two—albeit under strict limitations—but all swimming pools, public and private, remain closed until stage three. This is seemingly at odds with the emerging scientific consensus that outdoor activity is carries much less risk of spread than indoor activity.

The pandemic will prompt people to make different choices; many small businesses probably won't be able to attract enough customers to stay profitable no matter what. But going out of business because of the coronavirus is one thing. Going out of business on the implicit orders of the city is quite another.

The food and bar industry especially should be up in arms—and not just in D.C. As New York City bar-owner Toby Cecchini recently wrote in The New York Times:

Danny Meyer, the impresario whose Union Square Hospitality Group has shepherded many of New York's most lauded dining spots into existence and whose empire once employed thousands here, has stated openly that with the limiting protocols the state is looking to put in place, he deems it pointless to open any of his fine dining restaurants until such time as there is a vaccine. I can't fault him. Maybe we could in good faith struggle for the next couple of years in the red, my business partner and I chipping in out of pocket, slogging along in hopes of coming to the surface eventually. That is, if there's not another order to shut down.

But what other industry is being handicapped with similar constraints? For all of its sanctimonious emails, United appears to have been packing flights to every last seat, with seemingly no oversight from anyone, and fielding $5 billion in federal aid while doing it. The grocery and liquor stores in Brooklyn where I've been shopping have customers milling their aisles cheek-by-jowl—six-foot measures be damned—with no one objecting. Offices and factories nationwide will open to suggestions and guidelines for safety galore, but nothing officially mandating that they must hobble their production. Why should we be singled out for delimiting?

Why indeed? That's a question that officials should attempt to answer as they cobble together the rules under which we're supposed to live for the foreseeable future.

*Update: This sentence has been corrected. The additional restriction of 5 people per 1,000 feet applies to bars, night clubs, retail, and personal services, but not to restaurants.

NEXT: COVID-19 Herd Immunity Is 'Still Very Far Away'

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  1. “What are working parents supposed to do with their young kids?”
    Put them to work delivering stuff, traffic them, or sell them off for spare parts. Duh

    1. If they’re under 5, abortion most likely still on the table.

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    2. I hear the textile mills need nimble hands.

  2. Blue state governors will not rest until every major urban center in America goes the way of Detroit.

    1. If their business model can’t sustain pandemic restrictions, then they don’t deserve to be in business at all. It’s the minimum-wage argument writ large.

      1. Indeed.

        Good point.

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      2. “If their business model can’t sustain pandemic restrictions, then they don’t deserve to be in business at all. It’s the minimum-wage argument writ large.”

        Professional slopper at the public trough:
        “If your business isn’t returning a 50% profit margin, you deserve to go out of business.
        If it is, we’ll be happy to take most all of that.”

        1. Heads I win, tails you lose.

        2. ‘If you can’t pay your employees a living wage then you deserve to go out of business’

          This comment makes me furious. The simpletons that think money is just produced out of thin air or ‘muh labor’ are dangerous was the fascists they purport to hate.

          1. it also completely ignores that there are a large number of people who do NOT need to earn a living wage and will gladly work for pocket money, and as much as it sucks the people who can’t live off those wages have to compete with those who can.

            My first job was making 5.15/hr as a teenager at a movie theater. we’d ‘work’ for 30 mins before show times, then stand around for 90 minutes doing homework. at the end of the week i got enough money to buy wendy’s. if they had to pay us a “living wage”, they place would have simply shut down.

            1. “…it also completely ignores that there are a large number of people who do NOT need to earn a living wage”

              Futher, it ignores the fact that a certain number is masquerading as a ‘living wage’ is probably pulled out of the ass of the local SEIU official.
              And I *still* see your handle as “November Juliet 2 Alpha Zulu, turning downwind…”

          2. Wage scales are determined by what the consumer is willing to pay for the good or service and what the labor market is willing to accept. The business owner really acts as a middle man and has very little control over the price on either side. Government can inflate the price of labor but no one has ever successfully figured out how to force the consumer to pay that cost.

            1. Correct.
              In all cases, the seller asks, the buyer offers, and therefore sets the price.
              Only in the mythical lefty world of ‘monopolies’ does the seller set the price. Those occur only where the government grants monopoly status at gun-point.

      3. They don’t deserve?’

      4. That is rather asinine, considering there doesn’t seem to be an agreed end date to this pandemic and you can’t know how long any new pandemic will last. Do you need a year worth of rainy day funds? Two years? Three years? What about if you can’t rely on work from home or delivery? Some industries rely on walk through traffic. Also, if you are just starting out, you can’t expect to be profitable. You will likely lose for the first three to five years, even if you manage well.
        In the end all these so called progressives, who supposedly hate the rich and corporations are doing is boosting the rich and corporations by destroying any competition from smaller companies.

        1. “…You will likely lose for the first three to five years, even if you manage well…”

          As someone who founded two businesses, I simply would not consider starting one now.
          The odds are bad enough for originating a business in good times; given that you now require political connections to exist, keep your capital in the bank.

      5. “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized business out there.”

        –HRC

  3. The pandemic will prompt people to make different choices

    Only if they’re mindless pussies.

  4. well, government is involved. It’s going to be a clusterfuck.

    1. Strange that planned economies always deliver disasters. Not so strange that those elected to office figure *they* are smart enough to change that.
      Also no so strange: They’re wrong.

    2. No, your wrong. Our government isn’t competent enough for it to rise to the level of being merely a clusterfuck, it’s going to be at least FUBAR and maybe as bad as FUBB.

  5. I’ve been looking at pictures of Antonia Staats, the lover of Neil Ferguson, and I am not impressed. Bitch is fat, borderline obese. Is this the best a world-renowned epidemiologist with the power to bring the world to its knees could do for himself?

    1. Her knees are probably shot, so yes.

    2. Is this the best a world-renowned epidemiologist with the power to bring the world to its knees could do for himself?

      The fucktard did it on purpose to give himself a handy (get it?) excuse to disappear. The last thing Mr. 2.2 million wants is to be front and center when the pitchforks come out.

      They still allow pitchforks in the U.K. don’t they?

      1. Those are going to be banned right along with pointy knives.

        1. But what do you do with an assalint armed with a banana

          1. Peel out, man!

          2. Flu Eh?
            Sargeant: Where’s all the others, then?
            All: They’re not here.
            Sgt.: I can see that. What’s the matter with them?
            All: Dunno.
            Chapman (member of class): Perhaps they’ve got ‘flu.
            Sgt.: Huh! ‘Flu, eh? They should eat more fresh fruit. Ha. Right.

    3. The bigger the cushion the sweeter the pushin.

  6. And Ohio is following along not caring these business can’t exist
    with half their business,

  7. “The task force was chaired by former National Security Advisor Susan Rice”

    Hmm, I feel like I just heard her name the other day for a completely different reason. What was it again? Eh, can’t remember, must not be important.

    1. I think the last time Reason mentioned her was when Roseanne Barr made that weird (not entirely inaccurate) comment about her…

  8. “”But what other industry is being handicapped with similar constraints? For all of its sanctimonious emails, United appears to have been packing flights to every last seat, with seemingly no oversight from anyone, and fielding $5 billion in federal aid while doing it. “”

    The airlines are under federal control. The governors can’t shut that down anymore than they can a federal mail processing facility.

  9. “United appears to have been packing flights to every last seat, with seemingly no oversight from anyone, and fielding $5 billion in federal aid while doing it.”

    Wrong, the Karens and Kens have been screaming to high heaven then they will never fly again unless the airlines adhere to ‘social distancing’. I say bully for them, more room for me. Keep the poor out of flying.

  10. What is it that the left is so intent on diversity of race, of age, and of gender, but so often we end up with regulators pronouncing these absurd requests because they cannot fathom the other perspective?

    What kind of lunatic would say that we have to cripple childcare completely? The cost of childcare is already a huge portion of working class lives, and this will more than double it. Worse, the condition is until a vaccine that doesn’t exist and might not even be possible is developed and widely distributed? That’s the thing, a vaccine might not even be POSSIBLE, and if it is rapidly mutating like the flu, coronavirus will become a permanent fixture of our society no matter what we do. Throwing infinite money at a scientific problem doesn’t make it go faster. This isn’t a video game. Claiming “cure” is even worse, as we don’t have ANY medicines for ANY major viral diseases that remotely qualifies as a “cure”. Even Tamiflu, the best thing we’ve made in a hundred years of trying, only reduces influenza, it doesn’t stop it.

    All you need is a senior pediatrician who remembers how they dealt with measles or chickenpox. Sit them down, have them adopt their “talking to small children and idiots” voice (every pediatrician has one), and tell these politicians that they are talking nonsense and overstating the problems and not thinking of the consequences of their actions.

    Coronavirus is nothing compared to polio, smallpox, or many other plagues that we’ve endured over the years. Yes, it was good to reduce the curve for the initial shock, but these plans for near-infinite lockdowns are absurd. The cure is far worse than the disease here.

    1. The way we dealt with measles, etc., was to throw parties for an infected kid to spread the virus around to their friends and relatives at an age when it would do them the least damage.

      1. Daddy (who was a physician) considered this strategy to infect my sister (younger) when I had measles, but instead isolated me because he knew a vaccine was under development. It came out a year later. Meanwhile he injected me with human gamma globulin, since pooled sera from adults would have the antibody; it may have lessened my illness.

        1. Yeah but these guys had a different strategy.
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SbzE0dr0ys
          Simple Sister
          Got Whooping Cough
          Have to burn her toys
          Take her treats
          Eat her sweets
          Scare off all the boys
          Simple Sister
          Got Whooping Cough
          Have to put her out
          Wear her clothes
          Steal her bows
          Tell her that she’s stout
          Simple Sister
          Got Whooping Cough
          Lock her in a cell
          Throw the key
          Into the sea
          Hope she never gets well

    2. Yeah, Governor Wolf here in PA is insisting no return-to-normal without a “foolproof vaccine”. What’s that mean? 100% effective, no bad reactions? Not bloody likely.

  11. “What are working parents supposed to do with their young kids?”

    I suggest everyone drop the kids off at the city hall – – – – – – – – – – – –

    1. Their future parent’s house?

  12. Shutdown the DC office and move Reason back to California.

    1. Better yet, Wyoming or Montana or the Dakotas or North Idaho.

      1. Undocumented workers won’t travel that far. Whose gonna empty the trash cans?

        1. Sullum was in Dallas for awhile, I thought. May even still be there. Move the HQ there. They can still get food trucks, plenty of Mexicans and pot—hit up Cedar Springs for the ass sex—and surprisingly good Korean, German, BBQ, and microbrews.

  13. If they succeed in spreading people out that much, look for offices to be converted to marijuana and vegetable grows.

    Also look for future generations to be inbred. No dating outside the household, see? How much more time of this isolation before incest becomes the norm? Can’t expect kids growing up to only masturbate.

    1. We’ll call it the Blue Lagoon effect.

  14. But does 50% capacity really mean 50% of your business? What if takeout and drive-thru are thriving? Where I live in central PA, there’s still no eating-in at all, but a number of places have long lines at the drive-thru and are advertising “now hiring all shifts”.

    1. Potential hires are getting unemployment plus 600 bucks a week. Can’t make that at the drive thru.

  15. People do not need to go to restaurants or bars until it is safe to do so. They can order their meals via Grubhub or other delivery services and eat at home where it is safe and will not risk spreading the virus.

    /s

    1. Um fuck off slaver. Isolate your own snow flake ass if you’re that terrified.

      1. You missed the /s; reset sarc detector.

      2. Hmmm, was that “/s” a sarcasm indicator?

  16. “The task force was chaired by former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff”

    I’m so shocked that this turned out FUBAR. Clowns.

    1. Jesus Christ: talk about two public servants that need a stake in their hearts already. What, were Eliot Abrams and Vernon Jordan not available?

  17. I didn’t see any “to be sures”. Keep up the good work!

    1. Reason starting to get more reasonable.

  18. There is only one simple answer. IGNORE THE OCCUPANCY LIMITS. There is no way any establishment can survive under them so they have to all just say “whatever” and then simply open for business. Eventually the police state will grow weary of trying to police each and every establishment. And that’s how “normal” will rightly return.

  19. The government is your worst enemy, especially the anti-capitalism dems.

  20. The hatred from the left against Trump is so bad they will destroy the economy
    And America in their effort to be rid of him.

    1. If Biden gets elected, watch the Wuhan coronavirus become just another flu, not worthy of any special restrictions on our freedom, but having ushered in many fundamental transformations of America.

  21. I wonder how many of these restaurant and bar owners voted for the current DC mayor and council. Quite a few, I bet.

  22. “But going out of business because of the coronavirus is one thing. Going out of business on the implicit orders of the city is quite another.”

    I defy anyone to list off to me even one person who has lost their job because of coronavirus. Not because of restrictions by the state, but because of the virus itself.

    1. There’s no way to point an unemployed person and say *this* one was caused by the virus, but restaurant reservations were way down before there were any lock-down orders and airline travel is likewise way down even though air travel has remained available. A lot of jobs in the travel and hospitality industries were going to be lost even without any government orders

  23. D.C. has always been pay-to-play, but apparently the government hasn’t figured out how to monetize the pandemic yet, so they are just swatting at every type of business to see who’ll cough up the Benjamins first.

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