Don't scapegoat Oregon restaurants and bars for the COVID-19 pandemic
No guest opinion about COVID-19 should start without acknowledging the incredible sacrifices of our health care workers serving our state on the frontlines of this pandemic. It is hard to imagine where we would be without the heroic efforts of our health care institutions to save lives and keep families intact.
The COVID war is not a battle being waged on one frontline. We have human crisis surrounding us, hidden behind the walls of homes as families struggle with uncertainty about what comes next.
The restaurant industry has always been a place where people can break bread and take a mental health break. Our industry is a labor of love for many.
In conversations with industry operators, a point was brought up recently about the societal benefit produced by various industry sectors. For example, in our industry 95 cents of every dollar spent in a restaurant goes back into the food, the employees, and the place. How many industries can say 95% of their work goes back into supporting their community?
When we think about restaurants and bars, it's natural to upload a picture in your mind of a time gone by when you were fighting for elbow room, talking over strangers and fighting your way to the bartender in an effort to get your next drink.
Oregonians should put that visual on hold because the experience conjured up in your mind is non-existent in today's regulated COVID restaurant environment.
I have been in over a dozen restaurants since the start of the pandemic and every experience has been safe and incredibly different from experiences before COVID was a household name. My soon to be 10-year-old daughter is a two-time brain cancer survivor and my wife has been challenged by asthma. There is no scenario where I would put their health at risk. So who I dine with, along with a full understanding of the environment I am dining in, remains paramount.
As the statewide association for restaurants and lodging establishments, it is our job to lead during challenging times. Our restaurants do not have the luxury of sticking up for themselves in an unabashed, matter-of-fact way. They live in a world where every consumer, regardless of merit, has a microphone and can quickly ruin a week of promising sales with a social media post or off-color Yelp review.
Restaurants continue to put their life's work into keeping their dream alive not just for themselves but for the employees and the guests they serve. Our industry continues to represent little to no workplace outbreaks in the Oregon Health Authority's weekly COVID-19 reports.
And yet, last week, Gov. Kate Brown announced restrictions that will limit the number of people who can gather in restaurants in several Oregon counties.
We know firsthand that further hindering our ability to serve patrons in our transformed COVID environments drives human behavior elsewhere. The concept of shutting down restaurants and bars again seems commonplace in society these days. These flippant statements about our environments are offensive given the work going in to making sure our industry is not front and center on weekly COVID reports.
It is hard to argue our industry has become anything other than a convenient target — an available tool to grab hold of if public pressure mounts to the point where a scapegoat is needed to prove we're doing what we can to control the virus.
Shutting restaurants and bars will do nothing to control personal private behavior. Restaurants remain a crucial mental health respite, and the prolonged nature of the virus and its impact on all of us as Oregonians tells me we are needed now more than ever.
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