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San Diego County Slowly Heading Toward Return of Indoor Dining

Progress toward the red tier includes coronavirus vaccines for restaurant workers

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San Diego County was not one of the seven California counties, including San Francisco, that moved into the red tier this week but our adjusted case rate has been slowly, but steadily, trending downward; as of March 2, the case rate was 10.8 cases per 100,000 residents. Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said in a statement that the county’s numbers are headed in the right direction and on the path to a lower tier.

The California Department of Public Health evaluates counties on a weekly basis, and with the next report scheduled for Tuesday, March 9, San Diego County could inch even closer to red tier status under which restaurants could finally resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Wineries would still be restricted to outdoor operations and bars, breweries, and distillers that do not serve meals would have to remain closed.

We discussed the possibility of a return to indoor dining and the new vaccination eligibility for restaurant workers in the latest episode of the Scene in San Diego podcast with Ben Clevenger, who co-owns Eastbound Bar and Grill in Lakeside and The Hills Pub in La Mesa and also serves as the president of the San Diego chapter of the California Restaurant Association (CRA).

Listen to the episode now:

Clevenger talked about what the CRA does to support and legislate for its membership, which ranges from small independent restaurants to large, multi-restaurant groups as well as eateries across the state. He says one of the biggest challenges the industry has faced over the last year is the constant, heart-breaking cycle of having to lay off and rehire staff over and over again throughout the pandemic.

He shares that the CRA has been working with county public health officials over shutdowns, reopenings, and restaurant restrictions and talking with the mayor’s office about what the local restaurant industry will look like going forward; Clevenger believes it will take two years for the community to bounce back after the pandemic is over.

Vaccinations for restaurant workers are a good step toward progress, and Clevenger says they would like to work with the county to set up a central vaccination station for the food service industry, although right now they’re just encouraging all employees to get vaccinated whenever and wherever they can.

Indoor dining returning, even just at 25 percent capacity, would help struggling restaurants get by but times are still very tough, Clevenger says, “We don’t make any money. On a personal level, I haven’t received a paycheck in over a year. We’d like to see something over 50 percent to where I can start paying my own bills again and seeing a profit.”

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