Restaurant Owners and Workers Concerned for Safety With End of Outdoor Dining

Coronavirus cases are spiking in Massachusetts and nationwide, and with temperatures dropping, not all restaurants will be moving to indoor dining

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With the weather getting colder in Massachusetts and coronavirus cases spiking nationwide, restaurant workers are voicing concerns about safety as the outdoor dining season ends.

Tracy Chang never envisioned an empty dining room at her well-appointed Cambridge restaurant, Pagu. But with tables pushed to the side, and her dining room now exclusively catering takeout and delivery, it's Chang's new reality.

"This is something we specifically asked our employees, we asked them if they felt comfortable coming to work," Chang said. "None of us, including myself, felt comfortable doing dine-in."

After closing the outdoor patio about two weeks ago, Chang is now pivoting, focusing on takeout, delivery and meal kits.

Still, the decision to close her dining room is costing her.

"Rent is $20,000 a month, of course we are losing money, but would I rather lose money that I am supposed to to pay to a big landlord, than lose lives," Chang said. "Of course, how can you even choose between the two?"

In Hyde Park, ZaZ owner Olrie Roberts is also getting creative.

Roberts says he has already had one employee leave for fear of working indoors, and he worries more could also decide to leave.

"I hear it all the time because some of my staff has kids," Roberts said. "There is a lot of concern with the distance, and not knowing, you can use the thermometers and all these screening stuff, but that is not really concrete."

Some restaurants that have stayed open for indoor dining are being proactive, from spacing out tables to installing better HVAC systems to improve circulation.

"Do I want to go to work today and get paid, or do I want to be safe today? That's an impossible decision you are asking people to make," Dr. Mark Siedner, an infectious disease doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, said Thursday.

"Indoor dining, with windows and doors closed, with people not wearing masks while they eat, is unquestionably a risk for transmission," he added. "There is no way around that."

Back in Cambridge, Chang is working to adjust in an industry where working from home is not an option.

"It is a tough place to be in, between a rock and a rock," she said.

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