Updated: Jul 10, 2020
Bartenders from the Kosbar in Robinson attended a July 2 protest in Pittsburgh, asking city officials to allow bars back into operation.
By Alex Topor
Recent announcements related to a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases by the Allegheny County Department of Health have many area business owners concerned with what seems to be a constant change of plans.
First, on-premise consumption of alcohol at all Allegheny County bars and restaurants was halted June 30. Then a one-week closure of bars, restaurants and casinos, and the cancellation of all activities or events over 25 people began July 3. Although ordered to close, food establishments are able to offer take-out and delivery during that time period.
Local restaurant owners feel the new mandates from the county are unfair.
Nicole Smith, manager at Rockefeller’s Grille in Kennedy Township, said restaurants such as hers are being punished because of bars in the South Side.
“I feel like we take one step forward and two steps back. Before we opened back up we measured everything out in the bar with a tape measure to follow social distancing guidelines,” Smith said. “It’s hard to fathom why you can have a Pepsi with your meal but you can’t have a Coors Light draft. We want people to be healthy, but this rule seems arbitrary from our viewpoint as a small business.”
During the June 28 press conference announcing a stop to on-site alcohol consumption, Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said that when people drink alcohol in public it invites them to congregate and ignore the 6-feet distance rule. People also talk louder, get closer to one another and don’t adhere to mask recommendations when drinking alcohol.
Starting June 23, county-wide daily increases of positive COVID-19 testing jumped to around 100 cases per day through June 27. Another spike occurred on June 29 with 151 cases.
“I am very concerned because the rate of cases is rising rapidly. Most of the cases do not have a known source indicating they are from what we call, community spread,” Bogen said.
“We went from nearly no cases of community spread to a lot very quickly. I am suspending the onsite consumption of alcohol at all facilities in the county. The consumption of alcohol inside bars, restaurants, nightclubs and the like, is particularly concerning to me.”
Sean Carmody, co-owner of Carmody’s Grille, is also concerned about the impact the new mandate will have on business.
“I think this will have a huge impact on us, it will be devastating,” Carmody said. “We were just getting our sales back up to about two-thirds of our normal sales. When we were only doing take-out orders, we were at about one-third of normal sales.”
Carmody, like Smith, believes the mandate is unfair and his restaurant is being unfairly punished because of bars and restaurants in downtown Pittsburgh.
“If the green zone mandates were enforced by the county we wouldn't have a problem but because bars in South Side and Oakland don’t want to follow rules we are being punished,” Carmody said. “Even though we have followed all the guidelines we are still going to lose business because of this.”
Despite the new restrictions, there are no plans to move the county back to the “Yellow Phase.”
“We don’t want to close down our economy again,” Bogen said. “We know that’s not good for people’s health either. If we follow the guidance, we should be OK.”