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Bar Managers Question COVID-19 Restrictions That Limit Alcohol Service Throughout Utah

A photo of the entrance to Chakra Lounge.
Pablo Zarate
Chakra Lounge manager Sara Tiger said she has had to tell half her staff they don’t have jobs for the next two weeks while alcohol service is restricted due to public health orders.

Utah’s emergency COVID-19 orders require bars and restaurants throughout the state to stop selling alcohol after 10 p.m. for the next two weeks.

Sara Tiger manages Chakra Lounge, a bar on State Street in downtown Salt Lake City. She said the bar has a dinner service, but with the new restrictions, the place will be closing earlier than usual.

“All of our business comes after 10 p.m.,” Tiger said. “I've already had to tell half of my staff that they don't have a job for two weeks. I don't have any need for security. I don't have any need for more than one door person or for a barback, and I only need one bartender instead of two at this point. I can't afford to pay them if we're not making any money.”

Nicholas Rupp, spokesperson for the Salt Lake County Health Department, said all of the department’s formal warnings about masks and social distancing have been at nightclubs and bars — and limiting alcohol service could help prevent that.

“I don't know that people are as likely to be congregating on a crowded dance floor at midnight when they haven't been able to have a drink for two hours,” Rupp said. “I am optimistic that our weekend and evening enforcement will not need to be as regular and as heavy-handed when there's not drinking going on during those hours.”

Tiger said her bar hasn’t had the dance floor open and throughout the pandemic, they’ve cut occupancy in half and enforced mask wearing for staff and customers.

She said if other businesses don’t comply, they should face the consequences — and if the state doesn’t get case counts under control, she isn’t sure the business would survive another hit to its revenue.

“Two weeks is not that long, but in terms of small business, it is,” she said. “We've already been trying to rebuild and to get some sort of stamina up. We do, and then all of a sudden we're shut down again.”

As far as enforcing other restrictions, Rupp said the health department receives a lot of complaints about mask wearing and social distancing, but they don’t walk around the county patrolling for violations. Still, he said he believes the stricter rules from the emergency orders send a message.

“We truly do need every member of this community to do their part,” Rupp said. “And for some people, that means wearing their face covering when they go to the grocery store. For other people, that means not going out to a bar like they normally would. We need everybody's help if we're going to be successful at combating this pandemic.”

The restrictions last through Nov. 23.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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