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SB restaurants reeling with new order set to shut down dine-in

Outdoor dining tables
Ryan Fish/KEYT
Under the new Stay-At-Home order, indoor and outdoor dining will not be allowed for regions with less than 15% ICU capacity.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Among the businesses that will be hit hardest by California's new Stay-At-Home order are restaurants, which will only be allowed to offer take-out and delivery service once a region falls below 15 percent intensive care unit capacity at its hospitals.

The new shutdown will last at least three weeks once it begins. It will reimpose the restrictions that restaurants faced in the spring during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virus's first surge.

Restaurants across the Santa Barbara County will be hurting, including the State Street promenade in downtown Santa Barbara.

The street opening up to pedestrians this year has allowed restaurants along the corridor ample space to set up outdoor dining, which won't be allowed once the order takes effect.

With Santa Barbara County in the Southern California region--where virus case rates have skyrocketed in other counties--the less than 15 percent ICU capacity threshold could be met as soon as this weekend.

“It’s a hit obviously for everybody in this town,” said Joey Somerville, manager at Joe’s Cafe in Santa Barbara. “Obviously, everyone’s gonna go through it.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it was surprising, but it’s unfortunate for sure,” said Justin Fitzgerald, kitchen manager at The Crusiery.

For the industry, it's just the latest challenge in a year full of them. A new round of adjustments will soon be necessary.

“For us, that’s looking like trying to build a better ‘To Go’ menu,” Fitzgerald said. “Unfortunately, probably slimming down our staff again, which we already had to do with the no indoor dining [restriction]… Hopefully keeping us afloat until we can get some set of normalcy back.”

“This month is one of our best months of the year, typically,” Somerville said. “If we have to shut down, obviously that’s not gonna be the case.”

Fitzgerald is optimistic that the community spirit he saw in the spring--urging people to eat and drink at local restaurants--will return for the holiday season in order to keep them in business.

But uncertainty is already here. One owner on State Street says even the order's minimum of three weeks without indoor or outdoor dining may be long enough to force him to shut down his business.

Several downtown restaurant staff members expressed frustration that Santa Barbara County is included with the rest of the counties in the Southern California region, despite having a much better COVID case rate and ICU capacity.

“I just hope that whatever decisions are made at the higher levels are decisions that are right for the city and for the state and the nation, and hopefully we get past this,” Somerville said.

Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said Thursday that he believes Santa Barbara County would have dropped below the 15 percent ICU capacity threshold on its own in the coming weeks.

As far as restaurants go, Dr. Ansorg says that while there isn't a lot of hard data linking virus spread to restaurants, experts know from experience that the virus can be spread in that type of environment.

“To say ‘Yeah, the restaurants are the culprit,’ that’s not fair,” he said. “It's depending on the length of stay in the restaurant and depending on the density of the occupation while the person is there.

"The more people are there, the more people are laughing, enjoying themselves, not wearing a mask because they’re eating or drinking, the risk goes up. So it’s not one of the safest environments after all… We have seen that super-spreader events happen outdoors when people are together for prolonged periods.”

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Ryan Fish

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