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Even though Gov. Kim Reynolds has lifted a mask rule, requirements for social distancing in businesses and a limit on group sizes, dozens of restaurants in the Corridor say they'll nonetheless maintain the pandemic safety protocols.
In a decision late Friday, Reynolds encouraged Iowans to continue limiting their in-person interactions with vulnerable people and to 'exercise particular care and caution” when in public. But she said she would no longer require groups of patrons in restaurants and other venues to be kept 6 feet apart, which effectively limited capacity, or be separated by barriers. She also lifted a statewide partial mask mandate, but several governments including in Linn and Johnson counties have said they have the authority to impose mask mandates themselves and have.
Christina and Mitch Springman, owners of The Map Room, 416 Third St. SE in Cedar Rapids, said their employees' health is at the core of their decision-making and they will keep their pandemic practices in place.
'They're the ones interacting with the public. They're the ones putting themselves at risk,” the owners said in a social media statement. 'We expect our customers to respect our staff and during a pandemic, that means wearing a mask when within six feet and up and about.”
Some of the other restaurants in Cedar Rapids and Marion that said they will continue to implement pandemic precautions include Blue42 Sports Bar and Grill, Lighthouse Inn Supper Club, Lightworks Cafe, Bo Macs, Quarter Barrel Arcade and Brewery, Vito's on 42nd, Lucky's on 16th, La Cantina Bar and Grill, Fieldhouse, Daisy's Garage, Naso's, Zoey's Pizzeria and Need Pizza.
Kristin Jackson, who works the front of the house for Naso's, 453 Seventh Ave. in Marion, said Naso's isn't making any changes for now to how it operates.
'We will continue to keep all the same safety measures we had in place prior to her (Reynolds) changes in restrictions,” Jackson told The Gazette. 'We will continue our cleaning protocols, limited capacity with spacing of tables, staff mask requirements and requesting that our customers wear masks when not seated.”
Justin Zehr, owner of LP Streetfood, Brick's and Moco, told The Gazette that the businesses would continue to operate with safety precautions in place as well.
'We're not going to have the staff stop wearing masks,” Zehr said. 'Until things ease up, we will continue with the precautions. The mayor (of Cedar Rapids) kept a mask mandate and I think that should be respected.”
Zehr said that of his three businesses, LP has been doing well, all things considered.
'In the summer, we have a big patio so that helped,” he said. 'We have igloos in the winter so we've been doing pretty good there.”
He said Brick's, which is near the DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Complex, and Moco have faced more challenges than LP.
'For Brick's, we count on the business across the street with the hotel and the concerts,” he said. 'Everyone goes there for business meetings, too. That foot traffic is non-existent now and it's really taken a toll. At Moco, we built that place to be a music venue. … it's very challenging financially.”
Think Iowa City President Josh Schamberger said he expects Johnson County restaurants and other businesses, such as gyms, to also continue with restrictions they've had in place throughout the pandemic.
'Everybody that I've had a conversation with, the plans are going to continue as they have been with the same sort of precautions and safety protocols that have been in place,” he said.
Schamberger said the greater Iowa City area is distinct in the state, given the large number of health care workers, and said the business community recognizes that in maintaining the protections.
'There are so many people who work in the industry who have seen the impact of COVID firsthand,” he said. 'The rest of us will continue to rely on information and be directed by our leaders in Johnson County Public Health, as well as the CEOs and administrators of our three main hospitals.”
Sam Jarvis, Community Health Division manager for Johnson County Public Health, said he was 'absolutely encouraged” to see local restaurants announce their intentions to maintain their safety protocols.
'They're being proactive and they're stating they're going to continue to do the right thing and protect others,” Jarvis said. 'We love that.”
Jarvis also praised the county and municipal leaders who have made clear in communication that local mask mandates remain in effect.
'Now is not the time to let our guard down or cease the vigilance,” he said.
Jessica Dunker, president and chief executive officer of the Iowa Restaurant Association, said loosening of pandemic orders by the governor was needed for restaurants, even if some of them decide to continue the restrictions for now. 'Ultimately, to be back to business, we did need restrictions to be lifted,” Dunker said. 'I don't think you're going to see a rapid change in the behavior of restaurants and bars. I think most will gradually and safely lift restrictions to keep patrons and employees safe.”
Dunker said the restaurant industry in Iowa was down at least 33 percent, or about $1.4 billion, under what would have been projected in 2020. The association's projection since the start of the pandemic is that about 1,000 restaurants in the state, about 20 percent, would be lost by the time the pandemic ends.
'It's a devastating loss,” she said. 'And those jobs we lost, if we do recover, it will be hard to find people to bring back. Building back is going to be difficult.”
Dunker added that if Congress passes the next stimulus bill, which includes a Restaurant Act, that could be a plus for the industry, including for franchises that weren't included in a state-level package last time around.
The $120 billion Restaurant Act was introduced Friday as an amendment to establish a relief fund for restaurants with fewer than 20 facilities, according to the amendment. The bill is modeled after a similar act passed last June. Nationally, over 19,000 restaurant and bar workers lost their jobs in January, according to the Department of Labor.
'If that gets passed through Congress and President (Joe) Biden signs on to it, that could be a difference-maker,” she said. 'But the main thing is that people need to go (to restaurants) and go more often and not grow weary of supporting their local places.”
The city of Cedar Rapids announced it again was offering temporary outdoor service area permits, like last year, for establishments such as restaurants, bars, retail and fitness centers.
The permits allow restaurants to offer patio dining. Restaurants can apply on the city's website at cedar-rapids.org.
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