A county health official and a Hopkinsville restaurant described somewhat different outcomes in a dispute over the use of a parking lot tent to serve diners, although they agreed about one point — on Thursday, the health department reinstated The Village Restaurant’s food service permit.
In a Facebook post Saturday morning, the restaurant owners called it “a small victory in a massive battle that we are in as American citizens.”
County Health Director Kayla Bebout said in an email that the restaurant agreed “to cease and desist indoor dining in the tent.” She added, “They were not to serve food to diners in the tent.”
However, customers were continuing to eat in the tent Saturday, with two partially open sides, by ordering carry-out meals and taking their food boxes to the tent, co-owner Krystl Martinez told Hoptown Chronicle. She said the health department understood they intended to keep the tent up and let customers eat in it, although restaurant workers wouldn’t be actively serving in the temporary structure. Customers were using tables and chairs placed in the tent from the restaurant at Canton Street and Navajo Trail.
Under an executive order signed by Gov. Andy Beshear, Kentucky restaurants and bars were supposed to discontinue indoor service on Nov. 20. The purpose of the order was to slow the spread of COVID-19. The order expires Monday, when restaurant will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity indoors.
The health department suspended The Village Restaurant’s permit on Friday, Dec. 4, because local officials said the eatery’s tent did not meet coronavirus regulations for outdoor dining. Tents needed to be fully open on two sides, according to the health department. Despite the restaurant’s suspended permit, owners continued to serve diners in the tent with partially open sides.
The restaurant’s Saturday Facebook post stated, “We are proud to announce that this past Thursday our permit was reinstated by our health department and without having to make any alterations to the tent. … We will be opening back up for indoor dining as of Monday morning, but for now, the tent still STANDS!!!”
The restaurant had an outpouring of support through social media, and a number of patrons said they were making a point to eat in the tent — both to help the owners and to make a statement about their disapproval of Beshear’s order and coronavirus restrictions in general that affect small business owners. Some people said they planned to drive in from out of town to eat in The Village’s tent.
A handful of people posted comments disagreeing with the restaurant’s actions.
“It’s shortsightedness like this and people not wearing masks is the reason we’re still having to close activities and 3,000+ people are dying every day,” one commenter wrote.
Health experts warn there are risks of spreading the virus even with outdoor dining.
“If you choose patio dining, make sure the restaurant has strict policies on mask-wearing and social distancing,” the Cleveland Clinic reported in October. “Even outdoors, tables should be at least six feet apart. Customers should wear masks when they’re not seated, and employees should wear them all the time.”
On Friday, the number of known, active cases of COVID-19 in Christian County was 637, according to the health department. The number has nearly doubled in the past month.
The rate of transmission is a major concern, officials at Jennie Stuart Health warned Friday in an open letter to the community.
“We are concerned about the COVID-19 trend, and about the health and safety of the community, and our dedicated, hard-working staff,” they wrote. “We want to avoid a scenario where hospitals are full. This is the time to take precautionary measures against an even greater spread of the virus, and to help save lives.
In a response last week to the restaurant’s actions, Gov. Andy Beshear said businesses that ignore the state’s coronavirus regulations are threatening the rule of law.
“You are diminishing the rule of law that is one of the bedrocks of this country. If you say you love America, part of America is the rule of law. It is what allows us to be a peaceful society,” he said.