State eyes contact tracing at eateries
May 27, 2020
As Phase 2 of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s re-opening plan looms, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and casinos may be allowed to unlock their doors Monday. There’s no doubt sanitation and social-distancing guidelines will be part of any reopening.
And for the restaurants, part of those guidelines could be strict and might raise more than a few eyebrows.
There is talk of a mandate requiring restaurant owners and managers to maintain a daily log of customers who patronize their establishments. The log would be for use in contact tracing positive cases of COVID-19.
It would be kept for at least four weeks and include each customer’s name, phone number, email address and the date they came into the restaurant.
“I know that it has been proposed; I don’t know that it has actually been finalized,” said Tom Martin, owner of the Taco Box restaurants in Clovis and Portales.
“I’ve heard discussions from other food service operators, and we are not in favor of it in general. We understand the thought behind it, but we feel as though it goes beyond what we are willing to ask our customers to do.
“It puts us in a very awkward spot, and again, although we understand the thought behind it, the general feeling is, we don’t feel like we should be the policemen.”
Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, told the Albuquerque Journal that the New Mexico Economic Recovery Council is still consulting with businesses from around the state on how to safely enter the next phase of reopening.
“Contact tracing will be a critical element of living in a COVID-positive world, but the policy continues to be reviewed in advance of the next public health order and could be amended,” she wrote in an email.
Chris Bryant, a Clovis city commissioner and the owner of Foxy’s Drive-Inn, is not a supporter of the proposal.
“First of all, it would be very time consuming. I don’t think customers would appreciate it, and I really don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.
“It’s the restaurant’s responsibility to maintain a safe area, and we would continue to do that.
“We need to get businesses opened back up, and the economy needs to get back on its feet and get going again. And as responsible citizens, I believe we can do that without a lot of mandates in place.”
Martin said restaurants would not be able to ensure accuracy of customer information anyway.
“We could take names and numbers,” he said, “and we could have 500 John Smiths show up, and their telephone numbers are 575-555-1212. Because how do we know what they put down is correct?”
Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, told the Albuquerque Journal that she’s optimistic the governor will make the requirement voluntary.
Wight said giving restaurants the option to let customers choose whether to give their information might make the requirement more palatable. “I think most restaurants would do it on a voluntary basis,” she said.
Martin said the intent behind the proposal “is wonderful. But in practice,” he said, “it’s impractical, and you’re asking for information that’s probably beyond what the government needs to know.
“I know one food service operator that told me, ‘I hate the ACLU, but I’m with ’em on this one.’”