(PORTLAND, Ore) — Portland restaurants can open for limited capacity indoor dining as of February 12. The Portland tri-county area had fewer than 200 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks, data the Oregon Health Authority deems appropriate for reopening. Restaurants can open to either 25% capacity, or 50 patrons, whichever number is smaller.
COVID-19 spreads rapidly in enclosed spaces when masks are not worn. This is concerning for restaurant staff who come in close contact with customers as they eat, drink and talk.
Northeast Portland restaurant Dame will not be opening for indoor dining. One Dame server, Jaelea, does not think indoor dining is “remotely safe,” with COVID-19 still a rampant issue. They believe the state of Oregon should pay its residents to stay home and pay small businesses to close for at least a month.
The restaurant successfully transitioned to outdoor dining earlier in the pandemic. Dame’s owner, Jane Smith, continuously checks in on the staff’s comfort levels. Jaelea says, “Many people try to take their masks off as soon as we seat them, without taking the time to think that we are humans who are also capable of contracting the virus.” Jaelea worries about maskless customers “especially in a space that is smaller with less airflow,” and does not envision Dame opening for indoor dining any time soon.
Many restaurant owners and employees hope that opening will elicit vaccinations for restaurant staff. Katy Connors of the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon told Eater, “Restaurant workers should not be forced to choose between their financial health and their physical health.”
Blossoming Lotus, another northeast Portland restaurant reopens its dining room on Feb. 12. A manager at Blossoming Lotus describes the increased exposure they face due to indoor service, “My choice is putting myself at risk or not paying bills.” They have mixed feelings about dine-in service, aware that it brings in more revenue and provides staff the hours they need. When it comes to worrying about contracting the virus, they say, “I try not to think about it too much.”