PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia health officials are allowing indoor capacity at restaurants to increase to 50% as early as Friday, if restaurants meet new ventilation standards. But restaurant owners say that’s much easier said than done.
It has been a roller coaster of a year for Philadelphia restaurants, including popular Kensington bar Cook and Shaker.READ MORE: 'A Game Changer': CDC Recommends Johnson & Johnson's 1-Dose COVID Vaccine, Paving Way For Distribution To Begin
“We are like everybody else, our capacity has been diminished for almost a year, revenue has diminished, we are around like, down 65% or so,” Cook and Shaker owner Laura Viegas said.
The seven-year-old restaurant has been operating at 25% indoor capacity for about a month now and has fared better than most, retaining its full staff from the beginning of the pandemic.
A glimmer of hope came Tuesday, but not without a cost. City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley announced that restaurants can increase indoor dining to 50% capacity given they make specific upgrades to their ventilation systems, submit a form to the city and pass an air test.
“We do think this is a way to try to have restaurants get back on their feet economically, and provide service to customers, while also doing it safely,” Farley said.READ MORE: Irv Cross, Former Eagles Star DB And Pioneer Black Analyst, Dies At 81
The requirements include, at least 20% of the air circulated by the HVAC system is from the outside, a filter system with a MERV grade of 11 or higher and 15 or more air exchanges per hour.
If a restaurant does not have an HVAC system, Farley said it can still achieve at least 15 air exchanges per hour via window fans.
Viegas said she’s lucky that her HVAC system already exceeds what’s necessary for the small space and just needs a few adjustments.
“We know it’s an added expense, but it’s an added expense to make the place safer and allow us to open at 50% capacity, which would bring more business, so we’re fine doing it,” she said. “We know that in the long run it benefits everybody.”
In a statement, Nicole Marquis of Save Philly Restaurants said many eateries would love to follow suit, but the upgrades are cost-prohibitive. She wrote, in part, “We think the city may have the right idea to improve airflow, and many of us are already working on it. But most restaurants won’t be able to meet these new requirements as they currently stand, so they will be stuck at 25% occupancy for the foreseeable future, which as we know is untenable financially.”MORE NEWS: COVID In Philadelphia: City Easing More Restrictions Monday On Road To Recovery
Meanwhile, Cook and Shaker is hoping to have its upgrades complete for expanded indoor dining by Valentine’s Day.