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Mixed local excitement as new tier allows indoor dining

Giovanni Messina
Eric Davidove/Special to the Town Crier
Giovanni Messina, above, owner of Tre Monti on Main Street, left, sets up for indoor dining Friday. Although the county has allowed restaurants to open up indoors with strict limitations, Messina said most of his customers still prefer to dine outdoors due to safety concerns.

Santa Clara County shifted into the orange, “moderate,” tier in the state’s COVID-19 tier system for counties Oct. 14, allowing indoor dining and gatherings for the first time since shelter-in-place orders were issued in March.

Strict limitations will apply to the two activities, more stringent than what the state permits under the orange tier. Both indoor dining and gatherings are capped at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

As of Monday, the county had a positivity rate of 1.7%, lower than the 5% required. It also had an adjusted case rate per 100,000 residents of 3.7, below the benchmark of 4.0. And it had a health equity metric of 3.8%, meeting the state’s new criteria for the most disadvantaged quartile of residents.

All businesses must submit an updated social-distancing protocol. The county counsel, James Williams, said during a press conference last week that officials will be enforcing restrictions on indoor dining. In a press release, the county warned that just because additional indoor activities are now allowed “should not be construed as implying such activities are safe.”

“We are very concerned, to be honest, about what might happen with opening indoor dining,” Williams said. “Folks generally should think hard about indoor dining.”

Dr. Sara Cody, the county health officer, when pressed about whether she would personally be willing to dine indoors, said she would not because people in her household are in a high-risk group for COVID-19.

“Any indoor activity where you have to remove a face covering is going to increase your risk,” Cody said. “Anyone who is in a higher risk group or who is in a household with someone in a higher risk group: We strongly discourage higher-risk activity like indoor dining.”

Wary customers

So far, while some local restaurants have taken advantage of the additional space, others have expressed a reluctance to offer indoor dining, citing the need to adjust to guidelines as well as customer safety. Several said they might consider it next week.

Giovanni Messina, who owns the Italian restaurant Tre Monti on Main Street, set up three tables indoors: a table for four people and two tables each for two people, in addition to his bar with the seats spaced 6 feet apart. Typically, he has 11-12 tables and a full capacity of 49.

Messina said he’ll continue to practice good hygiene by encouraging handwashing and the use of hand sanitizer, as well as sanitizing the bathroom three times a day. But customers are wary of dining indoors, especially with outdoor dining available and the weather still nice. When Messina began offering indoor dining as an option last week for reservations, only five of the first 45 tables chose to sit inside.

“People are still afraid,” Messina said. “We have a lot of (regular) customers that haven’t (dined in-person) since March, only takeout.”

Cody called the move into the orange tier “hard fought.” Santa Clara County is the largest county in the state to move into the orange tier since the state revamped its COVID-19 county monitoring system last month.

“What that says is we have been working extraordinarily hard in our county for a long time,” she said. “We were a bit stricter than many jurisdictions. Now, that is paying off.”

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