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National Restaurant Association Calls Out Cuomo, U.S. Governors for Making Restaurants ‘Scapegoats’ in COVID Crisis

The National Restaurant Association says states have come down too hard on restaurants without hard scientific evidence.

Tom Bené, the president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, has fired back at the  National Governors Association after many states reimposed COVID-19 restrictions that closed dining rooms as cases rise at an alarming rate across the country.

Bené addressed a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the chair of the association, taking aim at what he described as unscientific and harmful restrictions on the industry. 

“As the scientific research behind COVID-19 continues to develop, our food safety team has collaborated with regulatory authorities across the country to establish industry best practices rooted in science,” his letter reads. “To date, we have not found any systemic outbreaks of COVID-19 from the hundreds of thousands of restaurants around the country that operate within the Association’s guidance and follow local public health and safety regulations.”

The NRA thanked Cuomo and state governors for taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously but also blamed them for making the restaurant industry a “convenient scapegoat” as cases worsen.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control warns that indoor dining poses an increased threat of COVID-19 transmission. A recent peer-reviewed study published in Nature followed 98 million Americans’ cell phone location data and concluded that indoor dining poses a high risk of COVID-19 transmissions. 

But the economic impact of COVID-19 has been particularly brutal for the restaurant industry, with the NRA  estimating two out of three restaurant workers have lost their jobs and at least 100,000 restaurants have closed since the dawning of the pandemic. Even in the franchising space, where corporate head offices offer some insulation from economic downturn, bankruptcies and mergers have run rampant

Bené, in previous statements, has credited the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program loans as keeping the industry afloat, but that money has long since dried up. 

The U.S. is currently setting records for daily COVID-19 cases and positivity rates. Many states across the North and Midwest have reimposed lockdowns on restaurants. In some cases, states have imposed lockdowns just weeks after allowing reduced-capacity indoor dining.

In his letter, Bené called for more clarity around COVID-19 regulations, specifically that restaurants receive advance warning of lockdowns and that health authorities set clear-cut metrics for reopening. 

Ultimately, the letter calls for business owners and political leaders to work together on reopening initiatives. 

“The National Restaurant Association stands ready to work with you and your teams on policies and regulations that will enable our industry to safely serve our communities for the duration of the pandemic,” it read.