Windsor businesses thankful for capacity increase 'can pay the bills now,' but health experts worry

Increased capacity limits for restaurants and bars in the red zone have already been a "game-changer" for Ernie Nesbitt, who saw his bar and grill go from seating 10 people to 50 over night. 

Epidemiologist worries that now isn't the time to loosen restrictions

Ernie Nesbitt, owner of Jose's Bar and Grill in Windsor, says he's thankful for the capacity increase. He said his restaurant can seat more than 300 people, but having 50 from 10 is already a big help. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

Increased capacity limits for restaurants and bars in the red zone have already been a "game-changer" for Ernie Nesbitt, who saw his bar and grill go from seating 10 people to 50 over night. 

"Thank God," said Nesbitt, owner of Jose's Bar and Grill in Windsor. 

"Truthfully the 50 people is a major game-changer like we actually can pay the bills now and I've got to believe for small business and the hospitality industry people are breathing a sigh of relief." 

And while business owners are ecstatic, easing restrictions has some experts concerned about the risk of more people spending more time indoors as a third wave of COVID-19 looms.

On Saturday, the province allowed restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments in a red or orange COVID-19 zone to expand their indoor dining capacity by 50 per cent — up to a maximum of 50 or 100 people. Previous restrictions meant businesses in red could only have a maximum of 10 people and orange could have 50, including staff. 

Only those from the same household can sit at a table together, indoors or outdoors, with the exception of those who live alone or caregivers.

People who live alone can sit with one other household, as can those who are acting as caregivers to someone outside their own household, Ontario's Ministry of Health said. 

"From Friday night, 10 people, to Saturday night, 50 people, that's five times, that's pretty cool," Nesbitt said. "We were excited on Saturday to come to work." 

Don MacPherson, owner of Cramdon's Tap and Eatery, says he's happy with the increased capacity and has already seen more people coming out. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

Don MacPherson, owner of Cramdon's Tap and Eatery in Windsor, said the move is a "step in the right direction." 

"It was a long time coming, you won't find a restaurant owner who isn't happy with that decision," he said. 

With the nice weather over the weekend, MacPherson said he already noticed an uptick in people going out and wanting to enjoy the patio as well as sit indoors. 

Both Nesbitt and MacPherson said they are ensuring customers are from the same household. They also said they are following all the appropriate safety protocols, such as distancing and cleaning, and are confident that those will keep clients safe. 

Epidemiologist says looser restrictions 'concerning'

And while business owners are relishing in the changes, some aren't sure now is the time to stray.

Epidemiologist and professor in Ryerson University's School of Public Health Tim Sly told CBC News that as the region faces a third wave, it's better to "hold off a little bit" on loosening restrictions. 

"Let's see how this battle will go before we start relaxing too much," he said, adding that it should depend on how each region fares in the weeks ahead. 

Epidemiologist Tim Sly, who is also a professor in Ryerson University's School of Public Health, says it might be better to see how regions fare in the coming weeks before deciding where to loosen restrictions. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

With the arrival of variants that are more easily transmittable, Sly said indoor dining only increases the risk of getting the disease as people will be in one place for a prolonged period of time without their masks on, they will be projecting their voice more if it's loud and interacting with a waiter or other restaurant staff. 

"It's not the time to open up, perhaps open-air stuff, yes as the temperature gets a bit warmer," he said. "I do expect to see cases rise in the next few weeks and that would have happened regardless of opening up, that's the point, because we're already in the foothills of the first wave." 

"The viruses are making this more difficult and now ... [we're] relaxing what we should be maintaining and tightening." 

With files from CBC Toronto


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