Restaurants struggle to survive with latest COVID wave, restrictions

There is a growing conflict pitting desperate health officials wanting to prevent a virus tidal wave against equally desperate small business owners trying to keep their businesses alive.

COVID carnage to patients mirrors the carnage to small businesses and employees. It's a tale of two realities.

This is having a serious impact on restaurants across the nation as various states strike one balance against the other.

According to the National Restaurant Association this is the sobering reality: 100,000 restaurants, one in six, closed forever or long-term. Forty percent of the remaining restaurateurs say, without federal aid, they'll be gone forever within six months. Some three million employees are out of work with the industry losing $240 billion in sales this year.

Matt Accarrino of San Francisco's SPQR Restaurant has been able to survive so far.

"There has to be some level of assistance both potentially for business but I think also, for individuals," said Mr. Accarrino.

But, with counties toggling back and forth with what restaurants can and cannot do, it may be unsurvivable. "With the re-closings of restaurants, the question is gonna be, for indoor dining at least, the question is gonna be: will that business shift back to take-out for us?" Accarrino said.

For health officials, this is their reality. U.S. virus cases are raging out of control to their highest levels ever with 10.2 million cases so far.  The country is averaging 121,000 new cases a day, hospitals are filling or full, and ICU admissions are skyrocketing with almost a quarter million deaths.  

Also, some businesses circumventing the rules to survive.

"When we have repeat offenders, when we have willful violations, when we see businesses that are just simply refusing to comply and putting our community at risk, we take it very seriously," said Santa Clara County Business Compliance Officer Beatrice Santiago.

In almost all cases, the violating business will be given one to three days to correct. If corrections are not made, they could face stiff fines of $250 to $10,000.

"However, in cases likes super spreader events where there is just no room for this error to occur, we take it very seriously and there is no grace period so, an automatic fine," said Ms. Santiago.

Nonetheless, these remain two different realities. "We look forward to working with you guys so we can get back to what was a normal life before this pandemic," said enforcement officer Santiago.

"Unfortunately, there isn't really something that can just be meted out to all businesses where it's gonna work," said Accarrino.

It appears, one way to balance public health with business survival would be to authorize a set number of indoor seats and outdoor seats, but without any further closures. With delivery and pick-up business also available, that formula might give restaurants a way forward.