Following Texas governor Greg Abbott’s order increasing allowed occupancy inside restaurant dining rooms from 50 percent to 75 percent, diners poured into restaurants across the city over the weekend. After visiting several of these establishments, one thing became abundantly clear: Dallas really sucks at social distancing.
While ordering tacos at a popular spot on Harry Hines Boulevard, I noticed that no one else in the restaurant was wearing a mask — not the chef, not the employees working in the open kitchen, and certainly not the patrons. In the small space, diners piled into tables that were not separated by six feet (as recommended in Abbott’s Open Texas guidelines), communal bottles of salsa still sat on the table, and there was no hand sanitizer in sight. A worker packing takeout orders was at least wearing gloves, but that really seemed to be the only significant measure taken to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Even where social distancing was possible (read: at bigger restaurants), most of the diners I saw this weekend did not appear to be interested in social distancing. The situation was decidedly worst at some of Dallas’s buzziest bars, where drinkers crammed into any available seat and ignored the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation to wear a mask while not eating or drinking. It was truly uncomfortable to watch, even from a distance, knowing that Dallas County’s numbers of reported coronavirus cases continue to spike. At one bar in Addison, I watched as groups of drunk partygoers mingled and danced together, seemingly convinced that the worst of the pandemic is over.
Dallas’s inability (or refusal) to participate in social distancing has even made the city the butt of the joke in an article published to satirical publication The Onion on Monday. “City enters phase 4 of pretending coronavirus over,” reads the headline, a sentiment that was absolutely on display this weekend. “Thanks to the efforts of municipal employees, I’m happy to say we’ve reached the final phases of completely deluding ourselves into thinking that this pandemic has somehow stopped spreading and that we’re safe,” a fake quote attributed to Dallas mayor Eric Johnson reads. “In order for this to be effective, however, we’re instituting guidelines requiring all residents to convince themselves that they can no longer contract or spread this disease.”
Unfortunately, most of the “jokes” in this “story” played out in real life as restaurants increased their capacity to 75 percent occupancy. That’s seriously concerning, considering that multiple Dallas restaurants, including favorites like Zoli’s, Town Hearth, and Royal China, have been forced to close their doors again as employees have contracted COVID-19. Our desperate search for a bit of normalcy in the midst of the pandemic via sipping a margarita in our favorite spot is potentially making other people sick, and that’s not okay.
This is not a new problem, either. As soon as bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen at even 25 percent capacity back in May, diners crowded spots like Gloria’s Latin Cuisine in Colleyville and Deep Ellum bar Bottled Blonde, completely ignoring social distancing guidelines. It’s abundantly clear that, regardless of the risks that being in a bar or restaurant continue to pose, many Dallasites have no plans to stay inside their homes, which means that the city’s restaurants will continue to be busy.
That’s a good thing economically, but it seems like the rush to reopen — and dine out at these reopened restaurants — will have serious long-term consequences, especially if patrons at these businesses keep flouting the rules. Last week, Dallas County was identified by researchers at Johns Hopkins University as one of the country’s five biggest coronavirus hotspots, and hospitalizations across the metroplex continue to rise.
Restaurant workers have little choice as to whether or not they head back to their jobs. Literally the least we can do, as patrons of these establishments, is follow the guidelines that will help keep the most vulnerable among us from getting sick. It is an extreme display of unchecked privilege to ignore the CDC’s recommendations knowing that you could be doing more to prevent the spread of coronavirus.