COVID-19 crackdown coming for N. End restaurants

Whistleblowers demand social distancing, face coverings

FOLLOWING NUMEROUS COMPLAINTS about expanded outdoor dining in Boston’s North End not complying with COVID-19 guidelines, the city’s Licensing Board has decided to crack down with random inspections of new “al fresco” dining locations.

It will begin random inspections at the new dining locations set up in an effort kick start the restaurant industry following coronavirus closures, while allowing customers to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

The website Eater notes that the city expedited the process for restaurants to create street dining spots, with the North End receiving 65 permits and another five awaiting approval. Some on social media have likened the new outdoor dining scene to what has gone on for years in Amsterdam and Paris, but not everyone is thrilled.

One of more than 50 contributors to Bos:311 wrote, “I’m super concerned about the North End. These tables are not 6 feet apart. Masks are not consistently being worn. Is there no enforcement?”

Another said, ” Employees and owners not wearing masks. How can you ask patrons to wear masks if you aren’t. How do we know if you’re preparing our food safely? We’re putting ourselves at risk and business owners are neglectful. Come see for yourself.”

The Licensing Board held an emergency meeting Wednesday because of the dozens of complaints to the Inspectional Services Department about safety violations. The online gathering had over 200 people after attendance was required for every North End restaurant owner or representative.

The notice for the meeting said that restaurant patrons aren’t social distancing, establishments are not adhering to the terms and conditions of temporary patio extensions, people are smoking, and businesses are overstepping into other spaces.

During the meeting, Kathleen Joyce, chairwoman of the licensing board, called for complete compliance, and said surprise inspections will begin immediately. Any licensee that breaks the rules will have their outdoor finding privileges revoked, she said. Workers are required to wear face coverings and patrons are supposed to wear covering going to and from the restrooms.

“If upon inspection you are not occupying the right space or you are not following any of our rules — including spacing tables 6 feet apart, your guests will be asked to leave immediately,” said Joyce.

She called the ability to occupy city space for outdoor dining “a privilege,” adding that with privilege “comes responsibility, and the responsibility includes following our rules and regulations — and not just some of them.”

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Mayor Martin Walsh weighed in as well, saying through a spokeswoman that “these outdoor extensions are a privilege and can be revoked at any time at the board’s discretion.”

While city officials are hoping restaurants will come into voluntary compliance, some wonder whether tougher measures are needed. An executive order issued by Gov. Charlie Baker mandating face coverings in public has been in effect since early May, carrying a fine of up to $300 per violation. There has been little news of enforcement on a local level, including in Boston.

Just hours after the Licensing Board’s meeting, more complaints were posted online about North End outdoor dining frolickers. “Please start inspections ASAP,” read one on BOS:311. “Many disregarded your meeting rules from earlier today because they’ll never get in trouble.”