There are no safe options for restaurants during the pandemic

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by Ian Vargas

While there was only a lockdown for a short period of time in 2020, a lot of restaurants weren’t open for indoor seating. Businesses typically ended up dropping employees they didn’t need. They also had to adjust to significantly less income, and many closed down as a result.

That’s obviously bad for the restaurant and the people who got fired, but the alternative is that both the employees and customers would have died of COVID-19.

With the advent of the vaccine most of that has changed; most restaurants are open for both indoor and outdoor seating. They frequently stress social distancing and wearing a mask on your way in, but people are rarely seen sitting very far apart. Cal Poly Humboldt’s dining options have followed the same trajectory. As soon as people could get vaccinated, everything went back to mostly normal.

Like many students, I’m very poor. When I came up to Humboldt and started looking for work, I did as many do and went to one of the restaurants nearby. This was when everything was still take out only. Businesses had been losing employees like crazy, so getting into something wasn’t too hard.

Working in any place that has a lot of people coming in and out seems risky, but thankfully I did not typically have to see any customers. I could at least remain mostly isolated, aside from my coworkers. Once people could get vaccinated and everyone started reopening for indoor seating, that changed.

Now I’m in close contact with unmasked and dubiously vaccinated customers all the time, my job feels very unsafe. Vaccines have given people a lot of inadvisable confidence about their safety. Vaccinated people can still get sick very easily, and even when you don’t get sick there is a danger of spreading disease with an asymptomatic infection.

Restaurants are particularly dangerous in this regard since there isn’t any way to eat and keep your mask on. Food going down doesn’t push the germs back into your lungs. Walking in with a mask just to take it off as soon as you sit down doesn’t sound like an effective way of limiting the spread of an airborne disease.

I don’t think restaurants are doing anything wrong, everyone has to get paid somehow after all. Rather, I think that they’re in a position where there isn’t any good options for a response. The initial 2020 lockdown should have been longer and more consistent, and everyone should have received monthly stimulus checks.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen, which places people in the unfortunate position of risking whatever new strain comes around. At some point, one of them is going to start getting people way sicker than before and there’s no way we’re going to be able to deal with it. More places will close for good and more people will lose their jobs or their health.

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