You Can’t Hoodwink the Virus: The No-Bar Edition

D.C. has done some very good things and some very… not good things when it has come to preventing (or trying to anyway) COVID-19. One concern I’ve had is that the city too often takes the typical New Democrat approach of avoiding difficult decisions, especially when it comes to taking on business interests.

One of the COVID-19 rules D.C. has is that bars are closed, but restaurants are open. That leads to the fascinating (not really) definition of what a restaurant is: a restaurant must “offer a food menu at all times containing at least three prepared food items”, and those items can’t be pre-packaged. So many bars have become quite creative. One bar, The Dirty Goose, serves three different types of baked cookies, which until very recently, has allowed them to stay open. But recently, that changed–apparently, three different types of cookies no longer qualifies.

This highlights a fundamental problem with this rule (boldface mine):

Why is that the way the cookie crumbles? A Nov. 16 press conference could offer a clue. Just after City Paper questioned DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbitt about why the city doesn’t collect more robust contract tracing data related to dining, Mayor Muriel Bowser grabbed the mic to address what she called a “pet peeve.”

…“We report restaurant and bar information, though we don’t have open bars in the District and we haven’t throughout the response to this emergency,” Bowser said. “So somebody who is reporting to the District may have been to a bar someplace else. So I just want to be clear about that.”

But isn’t the intent of the guidance requiring establishments to serve three prepared food items to allow what most people would consider bars to operate during the phased reopening process? Parker describes the strategy as leveling of the playing field.

When the city and the country conduct postmortems on the handling of the COVID-19 crisis, Bowser seems eager to have it on record that she never allowed bars to operate. Making that claim successfully is facilitated by the fact that there are no alcohol licenses that contain the word “bar.” ABRA classifies establishments holding liquor licenses as restaurants, taverns, nightclubs, and hotels. Pre-pandemic, some “taverns” served food and some didn’t…

There have been 795 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths tied to the virus in the first three days of December. If the goal is to get aggressive and bring down case numbers until a vaccine becomes available, investing time and resources into squabbling over cookies, brownies, and popcorn isn’t going to do it. Tighter restrictions like ending indoor dining could. (On Dec. 14, restaurants must reduce their indoor seating capacity from 50 percent to 25 percent.)

I’ll hopefully have some time to write about dining (and ‘dining’) later this week, but as long as we allow people from outside of their own household to sit near each other without masks and breathe at each other, we’re not going to get this under control.

You can’t bullshit the virus.

This entry was posted in COVID-19, DC. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to You Can’t Hoodwink the Virus: The No-Bar Edition

  1. Joe Shelby says:

    The bar-restaurant thing has always been a Campbell’s Law legal study.

    During my time at JMU (88-93), every area ‘bar’ in Harrisonburg changed from being a bar to being a restaurant, just to avoid the constant harassment from law enforcement over ID checking at the like. Many never changed their menu at all, just the name so that ‘bar’ was removed. It was all a farce in labels, with no change in anything else.

    And stupidly, it worked – law enforcement backed off and found other things to deal with (like the ‘cruisers’ high school students constantly driving around in circles at the main McDonalds).

    This strikes me as little different – make a definition using a word, they’ll stop using that word. Make it involving hours, they’ll change the hours. Make it involving food, they’ll change their menu *just* enough to meet the criteria. Enumerated rules = gamed system.

    The real alternative has always been “close it down, we’ll pay for your rent and your workers salary for X weeks until things are better.” But this country seems allergic to the idea of paying people not to work…well, except for politicians, injured sports players, and police officers on ‘administrative leave’.

  2. This summer, when our bars were open here in NY, Cuomo pissed off everyone in Buffalo by insisting that chicken wings weren’t a meal but merely an appetizer. He was quite the Big Daddy in his requirements for a complete meal.

Comments are closed.