Shreveport restricts all restaurants to curbside pickup and delivery only. Is it enough?

As evidence of Shreveport-area restaurants allowing customers to congregate inside dining areas sparked outrage and calls for action last week, mayor Adrian Perkins moved to further restrict how takeout is handled by filing an emergency declaration which went into effect on Thursday, April 2 at 6:00 p.m..

The declaration reads: “Restaurants, as defined in the Unified Development Code, shall limit their operations to curb-side or drive-thru pickup, with patrons remaining in their vehicles at all times.”

“As Mayor, my first priority is public safety,” said Perkins in his press release. “We have seen hundreds of our fellow citizens fall ill as a result of this virus, and the numbers continue to rise. We have to do everything in our power to slow the spread and save lives.”

The move is meant to limit the amount of contact between customers and between customers and restaurant staff but, as anyone working in a restaurant knows, it is nearly impossible to observe social distancing in a kitchen, regardless of how careful you are. Several restaurants, including local favorites Blind Tiger, Ki Mexico, Well+Fed, Parish Taceaux, and Orlandeaux’s among others have opted to close entirely, understanding the risks posed by working in that environment. Some restaurants have severely cut their staff to reduce risks and save on costs. Bon Asian Cafe downtown is currently run by a staff of one.

Takeout food gives people a sense of normalcy. It keeps things easy on a hectic night after taking care of work or kids all day. But the reality is that restaurant workers are squarely on the front lines of the pandemic largely out of a desire for entertainment, convenience, and to keep business owners holding on to hope, rather than out of absolute necessity. For a state like Louisiana in which food culture is so deeply embedded, closing restaurants would be a huge emotional blow, but the time for their assistance in this fight may have come and passed. As the pandemic rages on, how long reataurant operation will be allowed remains to be seen. Local and state officials are still incredibly slow to remove conveniences and restrict movement even as the number of cases grows exponentially in Louisiana and specifically Caddo Parish.

With the new CARES act passed by Congress and increases in unemployment benefits, it could be argued that it’s time to further close down businesses that are not absolutely essential to the survival of the community and ensure that businesses which are open are observing and enforcing social distancing with its customers. There’s a conversation to be had about places like hardware stores that provide access essential home repair products, but are being used to spruce up the garden too. Perhaps it comes to, as Caddo sheriff Steve Prator put it in a press conference earlier this week, roping off certain areas of stores that do not contain essential products.

It is inevitable that we will have these conversations. The question is if we have the gumption to be bold and make the harder choices before their absence results in further damage. Every time we take a small step, we delay the necessary actions. Actions that are inconvenient, but that will save lives.

The mayor’s emergency declaration regarding curbside pickup and delivery is effective as of 6 p.m. Thursday, April 2 and remains in effect until 6 a.m. May 2, but it is expected to be extended as state and federal guidelines change.