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Am I an Asshole for Going Out to Bars and Restaurants During the Coronavirus?

To be honest, you should probably cook at home tonight

There’s a whole lotta talk about “social distancing” right now, but I’m not sure if that means “don’t make out with strangers at clubs” or “don’t even glance at another human walking across the street from your third-floor apartment window.” Like, okay, maybe no hand shakes right now, but can I leave my house at all?

This week, we’ll be exploring the different scenarios why you might want or need to enter the public during the coronavirus pandemic, and determining an essential aspect for your consideration: Will doing this make me an asshole? 

In today’s segment, we’ll explore whether going to bars or restaurants right now makes you an asshole. 

For most of us, ordering food from restaurants and actually dining there is a luxury. I’m capable of cooking my own food at home, but I don’t freaking want to. This is why restaurants exist in the first place. Considering that’s their entire business model, the dining sector is taking a pretty big hit right now as nobody wants to leave their house. Restaurants across the country are closing, and employees are going without pay. 

The question is, then, is it good to support these restaurants, or bad to potentially threaten the health of their employees? “Us restaurant folks are really glad to have jobs/very anxious about quarantining destroying the businesses we work for, so I personally don’t mind [people coming to the restaurant] at all,” says Miranda, a line-cook in Portland, Oregon. 

As it stands, many service employees are still being scheduled to work, regardless. “I have my full usual hours,” says James, a bartender in Florida. “I think there should be a nationwide mortgage/rent/eviction/utilities freeze so we could all socially isolate as much as possible until the threat is lessened. But I’m also glad that, sans that, I have a possible way to pay my rent.” That said, he adds, “My place is pretty dead. We’re right by a hospital so that’s not helping at all,” says James. 

Stephanie, a waitress in Bakersfield, California, is in a similar position. “In all honesty, it’s been dead,” she says. “No one’s coming in. We’re a pretty popular place in town, too — we usually have like, two-hour waits. I’m looking out right now and counting three tables.”

“We’ve had to enforce a bunch of new policies due to the coronavirus, but in reality, they should have been enforced a long time ago,” she continues. “We have our bartenders wearing gloves up to their elbows, pretty much. Garnishes are only being used if requested. Anyone handling food has to wear gloves and nets.” 

However, she’d prefer not to be scheduled, “Not for myself, but for my dad. I moved in with him recently, and he has a heart condition and weak immune system. I want to avoid bringing anything back to him.” 

So we’re really in a pickle here: Some workers want you to come in and give them money, but doing so could mean workers who don’t want to be there get scheduled. Since it’s impossible to know which camp your server or bartender is in unless you ask them yourself, the asshole quotient more or less cancels out. 

Look, you’re not an asshole for wanting to be out in the world, eat and drink good food and be around other humans. It’s normal. But unfortunately, you might be kind of an asshole if you can’t resist the temptation and end up getting someone else sick. Technically, any other customer at a bar or restaurant has decided to be there — if they get sick, it’s their problem. The employees, though, are probably only there because they need to make money. If you know you’re even slightly sick, please just stay at home.

Say you’re feeling totally healthy, though. You don’t know anyone who’s sick, and nobody in the circles you run in knows anyone who’s sick. Can’t you just go get a few innocent little drinkies? 

Let’s ask an actual doctor to even the score. Risa Wong is an oncology fellow at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. She says that while it might be tempting to go out for food or grab a few drinks, social distancing is for the greater good. 

“Yes, social distancing is an extreme measure. But although it may not feel like it now, these are extreme times. The problem isn’t how many people are sick right now, but how many are projected to become sick in a relatively short span of time if the current pattern continues unchecked. Right now, the number of true infections is estimated to double roughly every five to seven days,” she explains. 

Two weeks ago, Italy had 322 cases. One week ago, 2,502. Today, there are 17,770. Wong says we should anticipate similar exponential growth here. 

In other words, social distancing is an effective measure of drastically reducing the overall number of cases. “Practicing social distancing as a society even one day earlier can result in a 40 percent reduction in the total number of cases seen by the country,” says Wong. “Okay, so maybe you’re convinced that some social distancing is a good thing, but you’re healthy, and you don’t know anyone who is sick. Is it okay to go out to restaurants and bars? More specifically, would you be an asshole for it? Would you harm other people by doing this?”

Drum roll, please…

“You would kind of be an asshole for it,” she says. “And yes, you could easily harm someone.”

Basically, what we’re going through right now is unprecedented. We don’t entirely know what the impacts could be. The risk isn’t that you will get sick from going out, but that you could get someone else sick. “If you’re young and healthy, after all, you most likely won’t get a severe infection,” explains Wong. “You may not even have symptoms at all. You should care because you could infect two or more people, and those people could go on to infect two or more people. Some of those infected people will die. And the exponential spread will continue. Not only will health care quickly become an unrecognizable war zone, but all other facets of society will be deeply affected as well.”

Considering there’s a chance not going out could literally save lives, you should probably stay home. If you simply must go get a martini and some chicken strips, at least be sure to tip. 

A lot.