Indoor dining capacity limits wreaked their own havoc during the summer

On Wednesday, January 6th, governor Walz announced loosened Covid-19 restrictions beginning January 11th. As reported by the Star Tribune,

Gov. Tim Walz announced the dial-back in the state’s pandemic response on Wednesday, noting that Minnesota’s COVID-19 case rate has fallen below “pre-surge levels” and that bars and restaurants can operate at minimal risk if customers comply with rules that prevent viral transmission.

“The way we help them out is, let’s not let the virus surge again. … By wearing a mask and social distancing, that keeps your local bar and restaurant open. It keeps your school open. It keeps your hospital capacity under” critical levels, the governor said.

However much like the reopening efforts in June, these new rules come with restrictions.

Bars and restaurants can resume indoor service at 50% capacity but with 10 p.m. curfews and caps of six-person tables and two-person bar groups spread 6 feet apart.

Movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums can reopen at 25% capacity. Most venues must limit the number of people inside to no more than 150, including fitness clubs, which can offer classes of up to 25 people and operate at 25% capacity as long as workout machines are kept 9 feet apart.

Amateur sports games can resume Jan. 14 with spectators, subject to indoor and outdoor capacity limits. Places of worship still must operate at 50% capacity but no longer have to observe numerical caps.

The reasoning behind these restrictions is to prevent a surge of the virus which would help things stay open. However, this type of reasoning presupposes the idea that restaurants and other indoor activities contribute a lot to case surges. This has not been proven true, as illustrated by John Phelan. Restaurants and other indoor establishments have had a significantly small contribution to virus surges.

Capacity limits are also damaging

However, what has been undeniably evident is the significant economic costs that businesses have faced based on this restriction. when restaurants opened in June, with similar restrictive rules, most faced trouble operating effectively.

In fact, many more businesses permanently closed due to this fact. In September, for example, Surly brewing permanently closed its destination hall as capacity limits had made the business unprofitable. The summer, which is usually their busiest time of the year was rather plagued by empty chairs and significantly fewer customers.

This issue was made worse especially in the winter when it meant very little outside dining. Multiple restaurants closed temporarily in light of restrictions as they deemed operating in the winter under capacity limits very restrictive. While a  lot of other establishments invested in extending their patio season, a new rule banning outdoor dining introduced by Governor Walz in November completely made this investment worthless. But for most restaurants that cannot afford the costly investments of extending outdoor dining in winter, capacity limits are still an issue to profitability going forward.

Despite all these harmful impacts, however, when it comes to Covid-19 rules themselves there is very little merit to their existence. A lot of research shows that Covid-19 restrictions (or their level of stringency) do not improve Covid-19 outcomes. This is something that has stayed constant throughout the duration of the pandemic. Ergo, there is no good reason restaurants and bars should be subjected to these capacity limits.