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Restaurants push for indoor dining as county slowly reopens

on October 26, 2020

As Alameda County relaxes restrictions to allow indoor dining, restaurant owners are divided between health concerns and business interests.

Starting today, restaurants, theaters and worship centers are permitted to admit up to 25% — or 100 people, whichever is less — of their capacity, while malls can take in up to 50%.

Some restaurant owners have been pushing to be allowed to reopen for indoor dining, saying they are losing customers to neighboring counties, where eateries have been admitting diners.

At a Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct. 6, a restaurant owner who only identified themselves as Rose from Tri-Valley warned that they are being shut out of business by continued restrictions to indoor dining, saying their customers now drive to neighboring Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties for food.

“We are hurting here and we are hurting really bad,” Rose told the Board of Supervisors. “We are losing business and customers to neighboring counties and that shouldn’t be the case.”

Other business owners say reopening is a matter of survival.

“We have to reopen, otherwise we may not even afford the rent,” said Li Lina of the Eden Silk Road Kabob Noodle Dapanji, a Chinese eatery in Oakland.

But others, like bubble tea restaurant Meet Fresh in Oakland’s Chinatown, feel that it is still too risky to reopen for indoor dining, saying they are better off doing takeout.

“It is too risky. It may help some businesses to survive but it is risky,” said Andy Xu of Meet Fresh.

At the time of the Board of Supervisors meeting, Alameda County was still in the red zone in four-tiered color-coded Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The color code criteria was developed by the state to guide restrictions and reopenings.

Each county in the state is assigned a color to represent new rates of infection — purple for counties with widespread, red for substantial, orange for moderate, and yellow for minimal cases.

Under the red tier, Alameda County had permitted several businesses and activities — including indoor nail salon services and gyms, indoor personal services, indoor museums and hotels for leisure travel — to reopen.

Many restaurant owners feel they should have been allowed to reopen as well, saying they are struggling to remain in business while surrounding counties, which were also in the red, have allowed indoor dining.

Restaurant owner Rose told the Board of Supervisors it was a matter of survival. “Given that people can go literally 10 minutes away to San Ramon or Danville or Tracy to dine indoors, I would love for you to reconsider some of the movement to indoor dining quicker,” they told the supervisors.

Terry Terry, a restaurant owner and the secretary of the Tri-Valley Restaurant Group, a coalition that brings together the hospitality industries of the three cities of Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore east of Alameda County, warned that the situation is likely to worsen.

“We are currently only open out on the patio area and there is rain in the forecast,” she said. “If this happens, then I will have to send my employees home.”

Alameda County is now considered orange tier, while Contra Costa and San Joaquin remain in the red.

“A slower reopening should help reduce the risk of a surge resulting in hospitalizations and deaths,” a statement from the health department said. “With reopening across California and rising COVID-19 rates in other parts of the United States, Alameda County must continue to proceed slowly to avoid another surge in cases”. 

Restaurants opening for indoor dining are trying to keep their customers safe. 

“We’ve set up contactless ordering so our guests can dine with us safely and socially distanced. We’re also diligent about our sanitization and social distancing in the kitchen to ensure our guests and our staff stay healthy,” said Haiden Tullis, the director of operations at Homeroom Restaurant.

The health department insists that reopening all sectors at the same time may overwhelm the community and lead to a surge in COVID cases.

“We caution residents that cases can rise very quickly, as we saw during the summer surge,” said Dr. Nicholas Moss, the Alameda County Interim Health Officer. “With flu season coming, if we see spikes in COVID-19 cases and a rise in hospitalizations, we will take action to limit the spread and protect public health”. 

That will include implementing restrictions, if necessary.

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