As cases of COVID-19 surge, many bars and restaurants have announced temporary closures, modified service or vaccine requirements for indoor dining – difficult decisions that echo industry mandates from the pandemic’s earliest days.
The U.S. observed a record-high of more than 386,000 new daily COVID-19 infections last week, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
At Mojo World Eats and Drink in Cleveland, owner Michael Herschman said he would meet the latest rise in COVID-19 cases with the same diligence he adopted early in the pandemic.
"We weren’t so urgent to just open the doors, smoosh the tables together and pack them in," Herschman told FOX Business. "We still have masks, social distancing and we’re still maintaining the proper hygiene."
After his entire staff was vaccinated, Herschman enacted a proof of vaccination policy for customers in June. The policy remains in place more than six months later and Herschman said it has bolstered business.
"With support from our customers we’ve had people who have been coming in here twice a week, instead of once a week, because it’s a safe place to go," he said. "We want to come out on the other side of this vibrantly operating. I can’t accept that if we let our guard down that it’s going to be OK."
Across the country, only a handful of cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Seattle have mandated vaccine policies for indoor dining in response to continued COVID spread.
At the same time, many restaurants have announced temporary closures to reassess COVID policies or monitor the latest viral surge.
"So it’s really up to the operator what they’re going to do and I think that really correlates to the amount of business they’ll do … it’s going to be tough for restaurants," said Anthony Hamilton, a chef, restaurant consultant and instructor at Kent State University.
Along with COVID, many restaurants are still dealing with inflation, pandemic supply delays and staff shortages – issues that led to the closure of more than 90,000 restaurants in 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association.
As the omicron variant fuels the latest uptick in COVID infections, Hamilton said restaurants will again be tested to see if they can survive another winter under the thumb of the virus.
"The question is can they weather the storm? These are things that are broken and they will be fixed, it’s just the time frame is a concern," Hamilton said.