Gov. Ralph Northam has urged Peninsula residents to avoid going to social gatherings, restaurants, bars and churches to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Then on Monday, James City County sent out an advisory, asking restaurants to use delivery and take-out options and temporarily close in-restaurant dining and bar areas.
The governor was not alone in that discouragement — President Donald Trump and members of his coronavirus task force on Monday announced new recommendations aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19 that will dramatically alter American life, including avoiding bars and restaurants, and avoid social gatherings or groups of more than 10 people.
The White House is urging all older Americans and those with underlying health conditions to stay home and away from other people. And it is recommending that all Americans work from home.
Some restaurants on the Peninsula aren’t closing.
After the governor’s remarks, the Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association announced a list of restaurants offering customers delivery or take-out options as well as updates about the restaurants’ service hours.
Several business on the list are still open, operating as usual.
“I think this has just been surreal,” said Jacqueline Liebler, general manager of Revolution Golf & Grille.
Her family owns the restaurant and while they are open, they have changed their policies such as deep cleaning everything every hour and after every table, seating customers apart from one another and offering patrons plastic cups, silverware and covered straws.
Liebler said she and her family will deliver within a 5-mile radius, letting their employees keep the tips.
“Because we’re worried about the team, they will be taking calls,” she said “Our goal is to keep them paying their bills.”
While Liebler is “100 percent respectful” of the general public in terms of health, she and her family are trying to find a way for people who need to eat and to make sure their employees are being taken care of in case the restaurant closes.
She recommends customers call ahead in case the restaurant closes earlier if the business is slow.
Lynn Allison, who owns Corner Pocket, said they haven’t changed their hours yet.
“We’ve seen a steep decline starting on Friday night,” she said, adding Saturday and Sunday is very slow.
The restaurant could adjust their hours but hopes to stay open for St. Patrick’s Day, Allison said.
When asked about Northam’s recommendation to avoid restaurants, Allison said it’s a moving target.
“I really wish they would come up with an economic package,” she said. “They’re virtually destroying our business.”
Williamsburg Economic Development sent out a news release recommending businesses to start collecting and documenting the loss of revenue related to the coronavirus such as cancellations and filing out a contact form to communicate with the city directly. In addition, the news release mentioned examples of common documentation needed in past disaster relief programs.
WYDaily reached out to Debi Schaefer, executive director for WARA, to see how the restaurants were being affected by the coronavirus and the governor’s recommendation to avoid going to restaurants on the Peninsula.
Schaefer referred WYDaily to Michael Claar, WARA president, but said the restaurant association would post schedule changes on its website. She later referred WYDaily to Mickey Chohany, co-owner of Second Street Bistro.
Chohany, who also represents WARA, said he believes Northam was referring to larger restaurants and nightclubs such as PBR, and not the everyday restaurant.
“We interpreted what we heard different than you’re interpreting [it],” he said, referring the governor’s news conference Sunday. “We heard him encouraging people to go to restaurants.”
He noted the fear factor of the coronavirus has already caused people to stay away from restaurants.
“We had 10 people in the restaurant today,” he said. “There is nobody in the restaurant…you already have social distancing.”
Chohany said area restaurants are being super cautious, wiping down door handles every 15 minutes and have set up hand sanitizer pump stations.
Other actions include running to-go orders outside the restaurants, seating customers away from one another and processing leftovers from customers who dine-in with clean gloves or giving customers the option to pack up their own leftovers.
“This is not far away from our normal procedure,” he said, adding the restaurant industry is responsible for serving food that is safe. “We’re going the extra distance ensuring the environment is a safe environment”
Cohany shared Northam’s news conference with the James City County Board of Supervisors and said the board would take the information under review.
As of Monday, two men in their 70s in the Peninsula who tested positive for the virus have died of respiratory failure.
There are now 10 positive cases in James City County and one case in York County, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s website.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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- The governor banned gatherings of more than 100. The CDC recommends events of 50 or more be canceled