In recent weeks, Louisiana has entered its third wave of COVID-19. As Thanksgiving approached, officials near and far have asked us to reconsider traveling, hosting and attending large family and friend gatherings during the holidays. Doctors and officials have continuously traced the spread back to these types of private home gatherings specifically; however, in other states, we are seeing a return to limitations and restrictions.
The misperception is that restaurants are spreading the virus among their patrons, even though contact tracing has shown otherwise. This is beyond troubling to me, and here’s why. My driving force in opening my restaurants in New Orleans was so that I could offer opportunities for our citizens to find rewarding work in my restaurants. Before COVID-19, among my seven restaurants, I employed 500 of our residents. We had to lay off 400 at the beginning of COVID and now, almost nine months later, our staff is at a modest 200 team members. I worry for those who have yet to return to work and if I will be able to bring them back any time soon.
I’m continually disheartened that restaurants continue to be associated with bars and other places that clearly show that they are spreaders. After the government, restaurants are the largest employer in the country. We are all suffering, and we must look at other options to target the spread where it is actually occurring instead of automatically assuming it’s happening at restaurants when there is no data to show that.
We were one of the first restaurants to re-open with a very detailed and thorough COVID policy in place. In the eight months that we have been open, our procedures and policies have shown that we can safely operate in this environment. We have had less than five cases of COVID in those months, and those were contracted at private gatherings outside of the restaurant. Those five were quarantined and removed from the restaurants, and we continued to operate safely.
Restaurants can provide a safe and controlled environment for people to stay engaged and keep people employed. We cannot regulate what happens at private events and private homes, but we can control the environment that the dining public goes out to eat in.
I cannot stress enough that we need to put our politics and personal freedoms in check right now. Regardless of what you believe, a better way to manage this crisis is for each one of us to take responsibility for ourselves by wearing our mask, washing our hands and keeping our distance from those outside your immediate family. By doing so, you can save thousands of restaurant jobs and help an industry that has been devastated by these harsh restrictions.
To our elected officials – Governor Edwards, Mayor Cantrell and others, when determining future measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, please use facts, data and contact tracing, and resist the urge to scapegoat our restaurants like so many states have done so far.
If anyone would like to meet with me, I would be happy to share our experience, our data, our procedures, and ideas on how to work together to keep our restaurants open and operating safely while getting our people back to work and our economy back on its feet.
Chef Donald Link
Link Restaurant Group