By David Loomis
INDIANA – Conavirus is plaguing the bottom lines of small businesses nationwide – which means 99 percent of all U.S. businesses and about half of all U.S. workers. The resulting economic uncertainty showed at a meeting of local entrepreneurs on Monday.
The in-person gathering at Bruno’s Restaurant bridled at the governor’s latest public-health mandates – temporary though they may be (Dec. 12 through Jan. 4). Dennis Della Penna, Bruno’s owner and the meeting’s host, suggested civil disobedience. Another restaurateur said he already had defied the state mandate.
Yet another followed suit on Tuesday.
“Crouses Cafe has decided to remain open for dine in and take out in both locations,” a Dec. 15 Facebook post read. “Remaining closed would require us to lay off over 25 employees weeks before Christmas…. Many small businesses, including ourselves, may not be able to survive another shut down.”
The restaurant did not respond to a Dec. 16 email.
SOCIAL MEDIA also was a source for a motivational argument embraced by Della Penna. He reportedly asserted that virus transmission rates are higher at hospitals than at restaurants.
PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website, flagged a similar claim on Dec. 10. It recounted Fox News bloviator Laura Ingraham on Dec. 8 asserting “the biggest lie” is that “restaurants are spreaders of Covid. There’s no science for that.”
False, PolitiFact reported:
- The coronavirus can spread during restaurant dining as patrons remove their masks to eat or drink.
- A CDC report in September found a link between testing positive for the coronavirus and going to restaurants. Those who tested positive “were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant” than were those who tested negative, the study’s authors reported.
- A November study published in Nature suggested full-service restaurants are among the types of public places most responsible for the spread of the coronavirus.
THE HOLIDAY-SEASON restaurant gathering also went in search of somebody to blame. Della Penna nominated “they” – as in, “What freedoms are they going to take from us next?”
State Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, nominated a favorite target, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, then weakened his nomination by correctly noting the state Supreme Court upheld the governor’s exercise of pandemic emergency power.
Alas, if there is a Grinch in the governor’s latest mandates, it may be us.
The sentimental tug of the season, especially this year, can override good sense. “Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us, once more,” is as much an article of faith and family as it is a favorite carol. But the wiser seasonal theme this year is, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
Recall Thanksgiving: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to avoid travel during the long November holiday weekend. But officials reported high travel volumes and a subsequent resurgence in Covid cases.
For the December holiday season, the CDC again advises against travel. But it also implicitly acknowledges that some Americans again will go anyway: The agency recommended testing and quarantining, going and coming, in an effort to minimize risk of worsening the pandemic’s already grim winter wave.
That’s the wave that triggered Gov. Wolf’s latest mandates aimed at places where people tend to collect, speak loud and shed inhibition – and infection. Places like restaurants and bars.
The governor – who recently tested positive for the coronavirus — expressed empathy. The pandemic has been “crushing” for eateries, he said. Takeout, home delivery and outdoor dining are still permitted, he noted. And he urged people to patronize those places.
“It’s unfair,” Wolf said. “We’re frustrated. It’s terrible.”
THE GOVERNOR’S WORDS may be small beer for rightfully worried small business owners. But he pointed to a big source of overdue economic relief.
Wolf called on Congress to renew stimulus legislation and to target restaurants. So did the president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. So did the director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association.
And the Independent Restaurant Coalition is lobbying lawmakers to pass a bipartisan stimulus bill to help bars and restaurants. The measure has 50 sponsors in the Senate and more than 200 in the House.
Around 160 of those sponsors signed a bicameral Dec. 4 letter addressed to legislative leaders urging relief for the restaurant industry – the nation’s “second-largest private employer.” Missing from the letter were the signatures of U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson, R-15th District, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
Local restaurant owners might consider revising their political menu.
This story has been updated to correct the partisan affiliation of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey. He is a Democrat representing Pennsylvania.
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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