As state prepares for boosters, restaurants seek more federal aid
As Connecticut prepares to start offering COVID-19 booster shots, restaurants in the state are asking for more federal funding to stay afloat, arguing the coronavirus variants are putting huge swaths of the industry at risk.
“The rise of coronavirus variants like delta threaten to push these restaurants closer to permanently closing their doors,” said Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association.
Specifically, the association, along with its parent organization, the National Restaurant Association, is asking Congress to replenish the funds available through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, established last year through the American Rescue Plan Act.
At the same time, Connecticut is preparing to offer booster shots to residents who have already been fully vaccinated. The
White House said last week that boosters for adults would begin rolling out in September.
“We’re going to be bringing out the booster shots, in particular, first for nursing homes, then older folks starting on Sept. 20,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday during an appearance at Quinnipiac University.
Lamont said he anticipates final Federal Drug Administration approval soon for the Moderna and one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
According to a release, Connecticut restaurants have submitted at least 2,066 applications for funding, totaling more than $489 million. There has been a total of $60 billion proposed to replenish the fund.
“There are thousands of Connecticut small business owners stuck in limbo waiting to find out if Congress will act to provide the stability they need to make it through this new pandemic threat and into the future,” Dolch said in a release.
Connecticut announced 1,071 new COVID cases Tuesday with a daily positivity rate of 3.83 percent. Twenty-two additional COVID-related hospitalizations were reported, increasing the statewide total to 391.
“We’re in relatively good shape,” Lamont said Tuesday. “Our infection rates are sort of flat over the last two to three weeks. Hospitalizations are still creeping up, a lagging indicator, but we still have some work to do.”
Yale New Haven Health Medical Director Tom Balcezak said during a news conference Tuesday that “almost 100 percent” of the COVID cases sequenced are caused by the delta variant.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday that while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been 95 percent effective against the originally sequenced coronavirus, they proved to be about 66 percent effective in preventing symptomatic and asymptomatic infection caused by the delta variant.
When asked if he thought it was safe to eat at restaurants considering the spread of the delta variant, Balcezak said, “I would limit it,” and eat outside at least, whenever possible.
“Dining outdoors is certainly safer than dining indoors,” he said.
Balcezak likened dining out at restaurants to driving a car when ice is on the road.
“Think about the delta variant, which is about 1,000 times as infective as the wild type virus, as ice on the road. It adds an additional risk while driving,” he said, urging more caution. “If there is ice on the road, would you drive out to a restaurant?”
Dolch said in April no hard evidence exists to indicate restaurants in Connecticut are a source of transmission.
On Tuesday, Dolce said Connecticut restaurants are still struggling and in need of additional federal funding.
A total of 1,303 restaurants in Connecticut have obtained $301 million in federal funding through June, according to federal data.
That’s less than a third of the amount requested — 4,870 Connecticut restaurants have applied for $1.2 billion as of June 30.
Nationally, 101,004 restaurants have received $28.6 billion out of 278,304 applications, totaling $72.2 billion.
The National Restaurant Association sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking for the fund to be replenished, arguing the money “has been a lifeline for many owners, but as you are well aware, it was only able to fund roughly one in three applications — leaving 177,000 restaurants in communities across the country without desperately needed stability.”
Included with the letter were the results of a survey completed by the restaurant association showing flagging interest in restaurant dining.
Six of 10 adults have changed their restaurant use “due to the rise in the delta variant,” according to the release, and 19 percent of adults have reportedly stopped going to restaurants altogether.
The survey also showed that 37 percent of adults are choosing takeout or delivery instead of dining in, and 19 percent have elected to sit outside because of the delta variant.