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Restaurant industry in Utah weighing options after health order extended

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Industry leaders are warning that many restaurants in Utah will not be able to hold on much longer. (Photo: KUTV)

Industry leaders are warning that many restaurants in Utah will not be able to hold on much longer.

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“Everybody is hanging on by their fingernails right now,” said Melva Sine, the head of the Utah Restaurant Association.

The URA estimates around 500 restaurants have closed entirely during the pandemic. Restaurant restrictions were tightened — including a mandatory 10 p.m. alcohol sales cutoff — as cases in Utah surged over the last two months.

State health leaders argued the orders would keep people from gathering in groups and therefore prevent the spread of COVID-19. Sine says the order is strangling bars and restaurants.

You either allow consumers to make the choices of what risks they’re willing to take, you let people make that decision, or you cover the losses. You cover the losses of the industry,” Sine said.

This week the National Restaurant Association sent a letter to congress warning of the dire conditions the industry is facing, describing the situation as a "free fall."

“In short, the restaurant industry simply cannot wait for relief any longer. Efforts in Washington to find the ‘perfect’ solution are laudable, but the lack of progress in the meantime has led too many operators to give up on the government and close down for good,” the letter states.

The National Restaurant Association estimates 10,000 restaurants have closed nationwide in the past three months.

Sine and other restaurant advocates had hoped for some relief when the state’s COVID-19 health order expired this week. However, it was extended until Dec. 17 with no changes on the restrictions in place for restaurants.

“You’ve either got to open up, or you’ve got to pay up,” Sine said.

As the URA meets to discuss their next steps, which may include a lawsuit, they say they have had no clear direction from state leaders about what help the industry may receive.

The office of Governor Gary Herbert sent the following statement to 2News:

We have great sympathy for eating establishments that are struggling to keep their doors open in these difficult times — but we have to balance that sympathy with the tough reality that coronavirus spreads easily in indoor locations where people are unmasked. We have tried to walk a fine line by allowing these businesses to remain open and requiring that certain distancing standards are met in order to make restaurants as safe as possible.


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