Daily food service losses of $4.2 million. Thirty-two thousand restaurant employees back on unemployment. Permanent closure of beloved eateries.
And New Mexico is now meeting all but one of its self-imposed requirements for easing restrictions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Given all of the above, the New Mexico Restaurant Association is justified in asking for the data that led to our state being one of only three in the nation with a complete ban on indoor dining. As representatives told the Journal Editorial Board last week, it’s past time the state “show us the beef.”
Yes, public safety has to be top of mind given this invisible health threat that has taken more than 700 New Mexicans’ lives. But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase have repeatedly said their decisions are based on scientific data. So it should be relatively simple to provide the data that led them to reinstitute the ban on indoor dining July 13. It’s puzzling the information has not been provided to date, considering the many weeks of pointed questions and harsh criticism from the public; the administration should welcome the opportunity to justify its actions and enlighten us all.
New Mexico, California and New Jersey are the only states with a 100% ban on indoor dining. After ordering restaurants to immediately halt indoor dining in March when the virus was confirmed in New Mexico, Lujan Grisham allowed them to resume indoor dining June 1 at 50% capacity. But in mid-July, amid rising positive coronavirus tests, she reinstated the ban.
Eateries are still allowed to operate patio dining at limited capacity and provide delivery and curbside takeout, but the association says without at least some indoor dining, many restaurants cannot survive.
In its lawsuit, the restaurant association says at least 210 restaurants around the state have gone out of business due to the state-ordered closures. When asked for a list supporting that number, the association only provided about a dozen names. Among them are Sandiago’s, Cattle Baron’s Barley Room, Cooperage, Rock-n-Brews, Anne’s, the original Garcia’s site, one of The Range restaurants, Freight House, Spectators, Sweet Tomatoes, Le Peep and Model Pharmacy. Recently, Restaurant L’Olivier in Santa Fe announced it would close at the end of August. “It just has been too much of a challenge to stay open with only the patio, and all the new regulations,” the co-owner of the French cuisine restaurant told patrons in an email.
Lujan Grisham administration officials have said indoor dining is unsafe due to the close physical proximity of people and the fact diners cannot wear a face mask while eating. Scrase has said data suggests indoor dining in the United States has been linked to spreading COVID-19.
But the restaurant association contends restaurants have accounted for only 16% of the state’s COVID-19 rapid responses since May, that fewer than 200 restaurant employees have contracted the coronavirus out of more than 23,000 cases, that it’s unclear if those individuals contracted the virus at work or in their personal lives, and that contact tracing has not shown a single case of a patron contracting the coronavirus in a New Mexico restaurant. The association has filed a public records request asking the state to produce the data justifying the indoor dining ban because none of the documentation so far supports 100% indoor closure.
Nobody – especially New Mexico restaurant owners – wants people to get sick in their place of business. But nobody – especially New Mexico restaurant owners – wants eateries to close their doors forever. To give credence to the oft-repeated claim that “we are all in this together,” the governor and her administration need to produce the data they say shows we are all safer with indoor dining off the table.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.