Portland Dining Month usually lands like a life vest, a high-volume, low-profit way for more than 140 local restaurants to survive the slog between Valentine’s and Memorial days, typically the slowest time of the year for dining out.
This year, when Oregon’s first coronavirus case was announced two days before the start of the promotion, the response has been more muted, at least according to some of the participating restaurants.
“Restaurants are definitely being affected by the coronavirus scare,” downtown Portland’s venerable Mother’s Bistro wrote on Twitter. “Dining Month usually has restaurants hopping; not this year.”
With a few exceptions, most restaurants contacted by The Oregonian/OregonLive earlier this week, including several Portland Chinese restaurants as well as upscale French spots, casual pizzerias and more, reported normal business levels through the weekend, though all were concerned about the future as the coronavirus continues its spread. And Multnomah County announced this week that some Asian-American-owned businesses in the Jade District around Southeast 82nd Avenue had reported a drop in business “because of the myths surrounding COVID-19.”
So how concerned should Oregonians be about eating out? The Oregonian/OregonLive spoke to Dr. Jennifer Vines, lead health officer for the tri-county region, to ask whether we should think twice before checking out a dining month deal or revisiting our favorite neighborhood restaurant.
Q: What concerns should Oregonians have, if any, about dining out?
A: So what I would say is in general when people come together there’s always some risk of disease transmission. Nothing is without risk. As far as coronavirus, we’re seeing that as long as you’re feeling well, you can go to school, you can go to work, you can go about your day. And that would apply to restaurants, too.
Q: So are there any extra precautions we can take when going out to restaurants?
A: As always, we say wash your hands before you eat, that’s always a good recommendation. Generally, when it comes to the human mixing question, we remind people that it’s not too late to get an influenza vaccine, because if people are going to socialize a lot, getting a flu vaccine is a really good idea.
Q: You recommend getting a vaccine now, near the end of the flu season, even though it doesn’t apply to coronavirus?
A: Let me be clear, the flu vaccine is not going to protect you from coronavirus. But though influenza B already had a peak, we are seeing an increase in influenza A, which can last well into the spring. We have reports of flu-related hospitalizations. There’s a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, but there are things you can do to stop getting a respiratory virus.
Q: And what about the restaurants themselves? What should they be doing to make sure the food they serve is safe?
A: Restaurants are licensed and inspected regularly around their food handling and food policies. Restaurants should follow their usual expectations set out by the health department around sick employees not coming into work and all the components of safe food handling.
Q: What about delivery? Anecdotally we’ve heard delivery business has been up in the past week.
A: We have no specific recommendations around ordering delivery, or interacting with delivery drivers. I can say that having passing contact with someone who is ill is not considered a big transmission risk. Again, there’s the hand contamination piece, so practice good handwashing before you eat, don’t touch your face, and if you’re feeling sick, you could ask the food delivery person to leave the food just outside your door.
Q: Multnomah County recently sent out a press release announcing that business was down among some Asian-American restaurants in Portland’s Jade District. What advice do you have for Oregonians concerned about going out to eat there?
A: Anecdotally, I’ve heard about people discriminating against Chinese and Middle Eastern restaurants. My advice would be to not discriminate against restaurants because of those perceived travel risks. First, it’s not just Chinese people that have traveled to China recently who have coronavirus. It’s other people too. And for now, we’re still in a system where those travelers are getting funneled through a specific airport, where local health departments get their names and numbers, call those people, determine the risk and watch for symptoms that might require them to stay away from other people, or not. Lots of people come and go from China. To discriminate against a specific restaurant is unfair to that community. And if you look at the headlines, (coronavirus) is in Iran. It’s in Italy. It’s spreading in Europe.
Q: What about large food and drink festivals or other events such as the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day festival and Shamrock Run? Is there any reason to avoid those?
A: There’s no recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control or Oregon Public Health to cancel or avoid mass gatherings. People have to make their own decisions about what level of risk they’re willing to take, but I can share that outdoor exposures would be considered low risk in general. We really think this virus is shared through close and prolonged contact. We just ask participants that, if you’re sick, don’t be there.
— Michael Russell
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Source: Thanks https://www.oregonlive.com/coronavirus/2020/03/oregon-coronavirus-are-portland-restaurants-safe.html