SOMERTON — Some restaurants in south Yuma County are choosing not to reopen for in-housing dining amid the still-growing number of cases of COVID-19 in the county.
Last week, restaurants in Arizona were allowed to reopen under restrictions, but restaurateurs here and in San Luis, Ariz., say that for the time being, they will continue to offer only takeout meals or home delivery.
“It’s still too early, said Carla Ojeda, owner of Sushihouse in Somerton. “If the numbers were flat or if they were dropping, it would be safer for the people, but it’s too fast. If the people are aren’t already taking care of themselves being in quarantine, they are going to take less care with everything opening.
“We decided not to open for the protection of the community and of our employees,” she added, “because every day we see more reports of infection, and we felt we would be putting more people at risk, and ourselves as well.”
Sushihouse already does brisk business in carryout service, she said, and opening for in-housing dining would offer limited, if any, advantages, since social distancing restrictions in place would allow her to fill only a portion of maximum capacity of 35 diners.
Messi Meza, owner of the Cielito Lindo restaurant in Somerton, said reopening for dining on the premises would likewise have limited benefits, since her maximum seating capacity is 24. But like Ojeda, she said her main reason for limiting her service to takeout customers is to help contain the novel coronavirus.
“I’m doing it to take care of the community and to take care of ourselves. Even serving to go, we are following social distancing (guidelines) and being proactive.”
Hector Tapia, Somerton’s economic development director, said according to his information, fewer than 10 restaurants in Somerton chose not to reopen their doors on Monday, when the prior statewide order barring in-house dining was lifted. He said about 25 eateries in the city, both chain and locally owned, chose to admit patrons into the premises for dining.
In San Luis, Ruben Walshe said he is not yet allowing dining-in at two restaurants he owns, La Bodega Kitchen and Bar and La Concha.
“I don’t think we are ready to do it,” he said. “The number of COVID-19 cases are rising constantly, and it would be putting at risk my employees and our customers.”
Both of his restaurants are offering takeout and home delivery service.
With 25 employees and a seating capacity for 180 diners at La Concha, he said, reopening for eating on the premises would have meant difficulties.
“Because of the characteristics of the restaurant and the services we offer, it would be difficult to enforce (social) distancing,” he said. “How are we supposed to prevent customers from greeting one another or limit access to the bathrooms?
“We can take all the necessary measures of protection, and we are taking them — the employees use masks and gloves — but there are a lot of people who don’t follow the guidelines.”
San Luis Mayor Gerardo Sanchez estimated that nearly half of the restaurants in the city did not open for dine-in service.
“They don’t feel safe opening, and I agree with them. Positive cases have doubled and tripled in the last few weeks, and it would be a good idea for those that opened to keep on asking the public to take precautions” against the coronavirus.
Sanchez said city officials are closely watching the incidence of COVID-19 in the wake of the Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision to lift stay-at-home orders — a decision the mayor considers premature.
Restaurateurs like Walshe say their decisions about when to reopen will depend on when the number of local cases level off or drop.
“We have to wait for better conditions,” Walshe said. “We are going to wait until the curve flattens, until the cases drops, and we’ll see what happens concerning restrictions.”