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COVID-19 closures statewide for Utah restaurants; bars will have to go dry

State-run liquor stores remain open
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Posted at 3:36 PM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-17 21:34:09-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert has ordered statewide restrictions to close dine-in options at restaurants and bars to help stop the spread of novel coronavirus.

The order, issued Tuesday night, extends for two weeks.

"With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in our communities, we must take quick action to adjust our daily lives and limit the spread of the virus,” Gov. Herbert said in a statement. “We have not made this decision lightly. I know this will disrupt lives and cost jobs, and for that I’m very sorry. Still, I’m convinced this will save many lives, and I’m also convinced that Utahns will step up to help each other and we’ll get through this together.”

FOX 13 first reported on the plan on Monday.

The restrictions are similar to what is happening at Summit and Salt Lake County restaurants and bars. It is something one industry group is supportive of in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Surprisingly, the restaurateurs that we have spoken with wanted everyone to shut down,” said Michele Corigliano, the executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association.

She said health officials last week gave them an opportunity to close individually or pare down seating.

“They didn’t want to do that. They said ‘This is a community and we need to fight this from the very bottom and as much of a hardship as it is, we think the best thing to do is close all of us down,’” she said, praising restaurants for their altruism.

Some restaurants across the state have already started scaling back. In a Facebook post, Blake Spalding and Jen Castle, the owners of the popular Hell’s Backbone Grill, announced they would cease dine-in services and instead offer “to-go” menus.

“We're very sad to be closing down our dining room, but we believe strongly that active ‘social distancing’ is critical to stop the continued spread of the Corvid -19 pandemic. We look forward to brighter days, hopefully sooner rather than later, and in the meantime, we encourage everyone to take all precautions and the necessary steps to keep themselves and others safe from the virus,” they wrote.

Restaurants are donating perishables to employees and those in need. Some are offering take-out options to break even or operate at a slight loss, Corigliano said. More restaurants will added to supportsaltlakedining.com, a website set up to inform the public who is open.

SLARA was told to expect closures up to 30 days, but they are expecting it to take longer than that. But Corigliano said her organization was supportive to help stop the pandemic.

“I think everyone can agree it’s a best case scenario for everybody to help combat this situation and help get us back running soon,” Corigliano told FOX 13.

Bars in Utah that close will effectively be “dry” under a directive issued by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. It hasn't been seen here since Prohibition.

The DABC’s attorneys gave an interpretation of the law that with health department orders to restaurants and bars to close, they cannot serve alcohol “to-go” or curbside, agency spokesman Terry Wood told FOX 13.

“They are dry,” he said.

In a memo to liquor licensees, the agency put it bluntly: “You may not purchase or sell alcohol during the closure. Please remember that any alcohol on the premises must be locked up.”

Corigliano said her group has been trying to negotiate with the governor’s office to allow for unopened beer to be sold and restaurants to return unused wine and spirits to the DABC to free up some quick cash to make payroll. Utah liquor laws have some exceptions for restaurants and unopened booze.

Utah liquor laws require a notification to the DABC if a bar is closed more than 30 days. However, the agency said that because the closure is forced by local health departments, the DABC will review it automatically.

Meanwhile, state-run liquor stores will continue to remain open for the foreseeable future, but if it becomes necessary hours would be reduced. People have reported long lines at DABC stores and the agency is encouraging people to practice "social distancing" as they wait in lines.

But the DABC said panic buying is unnecessary.

“There’s plenty of supply left,” said Wood.

The DABC is running short on Everclear, which is so high-proof, it can be used as a disinfectant. Wood said they have put in extra orders for it.

Should a store employee test positive for COVID-19, that store would be closed immediately, Wood said. Employees will be sent home to self-quarantine and the store would be sanitized before it is re-opened.