Pandemic Timeline

Unsanitized: Paying Restaurants to Close Is a Public Health Imperative

Unsanitized: Paying Restaurants to Close Is a Public Health Imperative

BETHESDA, MD - JUNE 12: A waiter at Raku, an Asian restaurant in Bethesda, wears a protective face mask as serve customers outdoors amid the coronavirus pandemic on June 12, 2020 in Bethesda, Maryland. Many streets are closed to vehicles in downtown Bethesda as Montgomery County continues its phase one easing of COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

This article is adapted from Unsanitized: The COVID-19 Daily Report put out by The American Prospect. You can find the original publication here.

Universal Family Care

Here are today’s stories from our special issue on universal family care, as we pivot to solutions:

• Brittany Gibson looks at family care models from around the world, finding options for a universal family care program in the U.S.

• Gabrielle Gurley focuses on Washington state, which has instituted a social insurance program for long-term care, paid family and medical leave, and a cap on child care expenses for low-income families. It’s the closest to a Care For All state in the U.S.

• Rachel M. Cohen analyzes the politics of family care, including new polling showing a universal system to be popular.

• And Seth Borgos and Dorian Warren highlight activism around child care as a case study in how to build a care movement.

You can see all of the stories at

Just Pay Restaurants to Close Already

We’re fully engaged in the third wave of the coronavirus crisis, with cases and hospitalizations rising to August levels, and deaths starting to upswing a bit as well. The optimistic case for the virus sees us about halfway through, with 9 months or so until we can see anything like normal on the horizon. Given that we’re in that range, we can get simpler about the steps that need to be taken from a public health standpoint. A mask mandate is the first, controversial though it may be. The second, picked up by Elizabeth Rosenthal today, is to pay bars and restaurants to close.

Governors and mayors are nervous, especially without the guarantee of federal fiscal relief, to lock down their economies. But that actually matters less than you think. In a raging pandemic, the bulk of people are actually sharp enough to stay inside. Lack of demand, not lockdowns, has crushed sectors that rely on steady streams of people gathering, especially indoors. So whether there are orders to shutter or not, bars and restaurants will struggle to survive financially.

We also know that these businesses are key vectors for community spread. You can’t wear a mask while eating and drinking, and as the weather cools, these unmasked people will be pushed indoors into crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. This look at a college town in Wisconsin shows the general direction: gregarious kids congregate at bars and restaurants and catch the virus, then it passes to older people, and then those older people die. Maybe it goes through a couple iterations, from students to parents, or to nursing home employees and then to residents. But it spreads, and that starts at the most basic place where a lot of people are getting together. Maybe death rates have dropped but not enough to keep vulnerable people safe.

Now, it would be easy to say that we should just close bars and restaurants until the danger is lifted. That has run into public resistance and statewide bans on local mandates. And for restaurant and bar owners, already facing near-extinction, an extended shutdown is just impossible.

The way to give these owners a chance to keep the community healthy and survive is to just pay them. Pay them what they need to stay closed for in-person dining, with their workers paid, until the national emergency ends. The workers will pay taxes on their salaries, so state and local governments won’t lose out as much. The recent innovation in to-go meals could be maintained, keeping restaurants a little busy and in competition with one another. The owners won’t join in common cause with “liberators” and anti-maskers. And if the optimist case is correct, we’ll have to do this for months, not years.

As Rosenthal notes, the precedent is farm supports, where we pay farmers not to grow crops for both supply-and-demand and environmental reasons. If you close just bars and restaurants you’ve gone a surprisingly long way to eliminating spread, and minimizing the events that allow the virus to run rampant.

There’s a bill called the Restaurants Act that purports to do this, but there’s no requirement in it to maintain payroll. If that can be fixed—and if tipped workers are made whole through it—that’s a baseline for something that would be one of the biggest public health interventions you can do right now. Unfortunately, by the time we have a Congress willing to put something like this together, it may be too late.

Programming Note

Starting tomorrow and through at least Election Day, Unsanitized will focus on the 2020 race, from the presidential election to the battles within the states. The pandemic is a world-historical event, and I’ll still carve out some room for coronavirus coverage. But so much, with the pandemic, with our economy, with our society, hinges on who controls Washington and state houses come January 2021. So we’re going to set our energies there.

Gubmint Loans

When it was announced in August, the idea of Trump’s pretend payroll tax cut (a loan, really, as you have to pay back) seemed like it would be important. Joe Biden even picked up on it as a way to talk to seniors about Trump undermining Social Security by fiddling with its funding source. But because it was so ridiculous—companies would have to yank back whatever they allowed to their employees, the equivalent of taking away a full paycheck sometime in 2021—practically no private employers have used it, and it faded from the headlines.

Arthur Delaney and Dave Jamieson bring it back today, focusing on federal employees, who were forced into the regime. They talk to union presidents advising employees to set aside the extra 6.2 percent they’re getting in paychecks now, because it’s going back to the government come January. There’s been almost no information from the IRS on how the thing is supposed to work, and how much will be clawed back later. There’s really no economic impact because so few people are using it, and all of that impact will be offset in future quarters. It’s unclear what happens if someone quits or is fired before the payback period, and whether they’re personally responsible.

In other words, it’s like every other policy implementation in the Trump era: a mess.

Days Without a Bailout Oversight Chair


Today I Learned

Not promoting stimulus talk to the top of the newsletter until there’s any indication that the Senate will pass a bill. “Disinformation” has been thrown around a lot but that’s what these stimulus negotiations are it seems. (CNN)

The Senate’s “skinny” bill failed, and hey, $500 billion is a bigger one-year boost than the stimulus, under pundit logic Democrats should take the deal, right? (Vox)

David Dayen

David Dayen is the author of Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud, winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize. Follow him on Twitter: @ddayen.