St. Louis County restauranteurs take to social media to protest indoor dining ban

Missouri

CREVE COEUR, Mo. – A growing number of St. Louis County restaurant owners is turning to social media to stop the county’s second ban on indoor dining in eight months in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.  

That ban takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday morning.  

The owners of six restaurants are choosing social media over courtrooms. They want St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page to give them a say about their own survival. 

They say the “#staysafestayopen #saverestaurants” movement is picking up steam. 

“We’ve had restaurants calling us, asking how they can also get on the campaign with us,” said Bernadette Faasen, owner of Cobalt Smoke & Sea in Creve Coeur. “They like what we’re doing; that we’re coming at it from a positive light.” 

Aaron Teitelbaum, who owns Herbie’s and the Kingside Diner in Clayton, told FOX 2 on Friday, “I’m not judging what people are telling us to do. We’ll do what we’re told (but) hopefully this (ban) won’t continue.”   

Teitelbaum and Faasen are leading the new campaign. 

They hope to form a panel to meet with Page and public health officials, who on Monday did not cite specifics when asked for data to support the ban. Still, Page said there was evidence of a link between indoor restaurant dining and COVID-19 infections.  

“From exposure, from case investigations, from investigations of close contacts,” he said, without citing specific data.

As for restaurants, that, in their owners’ words, are facing extinction, Page said, “We feel badly for them.” 

“I’ve got (an employee) who’s in law school,” Faasen said. “He’s paying his own way through college. I have a single mom who has children. Those are just examples of some of the employees who are crying because they don’t know how they are going to buy their Christmas gifts this year let alone make their rent and mortgage payments. This is where we feel we need to be heard a little bit further.”

The restaurant owners want Page to hear, even see, firsthand about things like the $8,000 chemical free treatment system restaurants have installed to transform tap water into a sanitizing agent. They’ve also invested in dividers to enforce social distancing requirements and have adopted near-constant sanitation practices that far exceed that of department stores, supermarkets, and convenience stores, which will still be allowed to serve indoor customers.  

“Truthfully, it’s safe than going to a grocery store,” Faasen said.  “I guess I want to know why I’m being told I can’t open yet they can.” 

The group was planning to launch a video campaign on social media as early as Wednesday.

St. Louis County issued the following response to our questions about specific data showing a link between COVID-19 and indoor dining in the county. The county health department director said she is willing to meet with the group.

In response to your inquiry, we know how this disease spreads – through air droplets and, perhaps, through aerosols. We know that these droplets and aerosols linger in the air longer indoors, boosting the risk of transmission. And we know scientifically that wearing masks dramatically decreases the chance of spreading the disease.

At restaurants and bars, people gather at tables indoors and take off their masks. This activity poses clear, major risks of COVID-19 transmission, according to the federal government.

In September, the CDC released a study that said adults who tested positive for Covid-19 were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant in the 14 days before becoming ill than those who tested negative. 

“In addition to dining at a restaurant, case-patients were more likely to report going to a bar/coffee shop, but only when the analysis was restricted to participants without close contact with persons with known COVID-19 before illness onset,” the researchers wrote.

Also, JPMorgan analyzed data from 30 million Chase cardholders and Johns Hopkins University’s case tracker and found that higher restaurant spending in a state predicted a rise in new infections there three weeks later. In-person restaurant spending was particularly predictive. ​

“In St. Louis County, cases are skyrocketing, with average daily new cases topping 700. We investigate each case to the best of our ability, but often, it’s impossible to determine the moment when and where transmission occurred. However, we are aware of numerous cases in which friends or co-workers went to a happy hour or lunch. One of the groups tested positive shortly after the gathering, and other people who attended the gathering subsequently tested positive. In cases like this, we try to determine whether the friends or coworkers not at the gathering tested positive. In many cases, they do not.

“While these cases we have observed are not proof, they are evidence indicating COVID-19 transmission.

The CDC’s matrix of risks involving dining is this:

-Lowest Risk: Foodservice limited to drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pick up.
-More Risk: Drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pick up emphasized. On-site dining limited to outdoor seating. Seating capacity reduced to allow tables to be spaced at least 6 feet apart.
-Even More Risk: On-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating. Seating capacity reduced to allow tables to be spaced at least 6 feet apart.
-Highest Risk: On-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating. Seating capacity not reduced and tables not spaced at least 6 feet apart.

In sum, restaurants and bars bring people together indoors, often at tables, where they cannot wear masks. By all available evidence, indoor dining and drinking poses significant threats of transmission. At a time when our hospitals are filling up and our cases of COVID-19 are skyrocketing, we cannot afford to allow such activity at this time.

Sara Dayley, Saint Louis County Department of Public Health spokesperson

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