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Wertheim column: The ghost of dining yet to come

I didn’t need a crystal ball to see into the future.

Just a drive to Moab.

Utah entered its first stage of reopening — the moderate risk protocol — on May 1, and restaurants and bars have been allowed to serve customers inside.

We were told numerous times that Grand County — of which Moab is the county seat — has just four reported cases of COVID-19 and zero deaths. (The New York Times website confirms four cases and zero deaths as of Tuesday.)

That’s almost five times fewer reported cases per population than Garfield County, so we weren’t exactly heading into the trenches.

Nevertheless, it felt strange on the drive west thinking that we were about to return to near-normal activities.

Maybe it was anxiety that venturing out into the world again could be a mistake.

I just saw a cartoon with a restaurant host asking a couple if they have reservations. “Yes, lots of them,” they reply.

But our experience there was very encouraging.

There were no throngs of beer-swilling comrades in arms at the Josie Wyatt’s Grille bar. Everything was tightly controlled: bar patrons had to have two chairs between them; outside tables were at least six feet apart; a line of inside tables was off-limits because there wasn’t enough room between them and the bar for proper social distancing; all employees wore masks; and there were hand sanitizer stations in many locations.

Dinner at Desert Bistro was a similar experience. We ate outside, and tables were much more than six feet apart, and all employees wore masks. Reservations were mandatory to avoid people milling about waiting for a table.

Having a drink in a bar and sitting in a restaurant eating dinner after two months felt quite normal, not like we’re taking our lives in our hands. I thought to myself, “This will work.”

The servers seemed extremely happy to be working again and were very chatty. Our waiter became so animated that I admit I’m glad he was wearing a mask.

For any restaurateur who doesn’t like the idea of his servers wearing masks, we would not have been comfortable had the staff not worn masks. For one thing: keep your droplets to yourself, please. But on a bigger scale it shows that the business owners are considerate of their customers and suggests they are taking precautions that are less obvious.

It may be a little early to mean anything, but we were told that there have been no new cases reported in the two weeks Moab has been “open.”

So far so good from a low-COVID county that’s inviting tourists to “take only souvenirs, leave only money.”

As tourists ourselves, following the now-familiar guidelines didn’t detract from our experience (can you say new normal?), and we didn’t think there was much increased risk of transmission at all.

Just don’t forget to keep washing those hands.

Charlie Wertheim is a copy editor and reporter for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. You can reach him at cwertheim@postindependent.com.


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