The Santa Clara County Public Health Department notified restaurants on Friday that its new legal orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus -- including social distancing and mandatory conditions for gatherings of less than 100 people -- must be enforced through April 4.
The restrictions apply to all restaurants, bars, cafeterias and other food facilities in Santa Clara County, both during normal operations as well for special events or gatherings. They do not apply to grocery stores or certified farmers' markets.
"As a business that serves food and/or beverages, the county requires your assistance to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in our community," the Public Heath Department and Department of Environmental Health wrote to food businesses on Friday.
"The primary way that the virus spreads is by respiratory droplets (e.g. when someone coughs) or when a person touches a contaminated surface or object and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth. In these ways, the virus could spread from one employee to another, from an employee to a patron, or from a patron to an employee."
Santa Clara County issued the orders as its number of coronavirus cases continued to climb, with 91 confirmed cases as of Friday, March 13, including two deaths.
The new restrictions on public and private gatherings of 35 to 100 people — which includes employees — and practicing social distancing by keeping people at least six feet apart will prove challenging for some restaurants to implement. Many are already struggling to stay in business as fewer people dine out. Palo Alto Italian restaurant Vina Enoteca decided to close temporarily this weekend; owner Rocco Scordella predicted that he won't be the last to do so. Restaurants are also shuttering throughout San Francisco, New York City and Seattle.
Santa Clara County is instructing restaurants to "under all circumstances, practice social distancing by keeping patrons' tables as far apart as practical while seated. Leave empty tables in between patrons if space allows."
In response, State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria in Los Altos is limiting the number of diners in the restaurant at any given time and has removed some tables and chairs to allow for social distancing. The restaurant has also started offering curbside pick-up for takeout orders.
Many restaurants are turning their focus to delivery as dine-in sales drop. County public health officials told food businesses Friday that giving customers the choice to have food left at their doors or curbside "may prove beneficial to your operation."
Many third-party delivery apps such as Postmates and DoorDash have started offering no-contact delivery. DoorDash and Caviar are also distributing hand sanitizer and gloves to their drivers.
Restaurant staff must wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at the following times, the county stated:
- When entering the kitchen
- Before starting food preparation
- After touching their face, hair, or other areas of the body
- After using the restroom
- After coughing, sneezing, using a tissue, smoking, eating, or drinking
- When handling raw food then ready-to-eat food
- Before putting on gloves
- After cleaning, bussing tables or touching any items that patrons have used
- Between handling money/credit cards/phones/pens and handling food
- After engaging in other activities that may contaminate the hands
Restaurants should also minimize touching ready-to-eat food with bare hands, assign an employee to keep soap and paper towels stocked at handwashing stations at least every hour, post additional visible signage for customers to wash their hands frequently and provide hand sanitizer and/or wipes for patrons to use, the county said.
Food businesses should avoid accepting reusable utensils and containers from customers, which many local coffee shops have started doing with personal cups or mugs.
Any employee who is experiencing any fever and respiratory symptoms should stay home for three days after they are symptom-free to prevent the spread of any virus, the county told restaurants. Restaurants should “maximize flexibility in use of sick leave to facilitate such time off,” the guidance states.
A ban on gatherings of more than 100 people also went into effect at midnight on March 14.
The restrictions may be modified or extended and new ones imposed, the county said.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.