Heights resident John Frels has been cautious about dining out since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Frels, who moderates the Facebook group “Houston Heights Foodies,” said he’s been disappointed by some of the restaurants in the area whose employees have not been masked and others that have opened to full capacity.
He acknowledges that businesses have the right to, per Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order, but he hopes to see behaviors that aim to reduce the latest COVID surge as the Delta variant has spread within the Houston region.
“I certainly don't want restaurants to be hurt again, but I do think they have the opportunity to make some thoughtful decisions to combat this and the other potential waves or variants of COVID,” Frels said.
According to Harris County's COVID-19 dashboard, 53.4 percent of county residents have received at least one vaccine dose, and 45.2 percent have been fully vaccinated.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo raised the county’s COVID-19 threat level on July 22 following a rise in cases and hospitalizations.
Frels said Tuesday he had lunch at Harold’s Restaurant, Tap Room & Rooftop Terrace, 350 W. 19th St. Suite C, where all of the staff were masked and the tables were spread out further than other places he’s been to recently.
Harold’s offers free delivery within 5 miles and curbside pickup. It also has a rooftop terrace for those who would prefer outdoor dining, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says carries fewer COVID-related risks than indoor dining.
Harold’s owner Alli Jarrett said she offered a financial incentive for employees to get the vaccine when it first became available to essential workers in Texas. And her staff’s mask policy hasn’t changed since the beginning of the pandemic, either.
“Our staff members have been wearing masks since March of 2020 and we still do today,” Jarrett said. “You might recall when mask mandates were put in place last year, restaurant workers suffered a lot of backlash when enforcing the rules. I do not plan on subjecting our staff to be the mask or vaccine police of guests, and I remain hopeful that our unvaccinated guests will wear a mask when not eating or drinking, as well as our vaccinated guests, as recommended by the CDC.”
Federico Cavatore, owner of Cavatore Italian Restaurant, 2120 Ella Blvd., was one of the first restaurateurs in Shady Acres to begin offering curbside service and family meals to-go, Frels said.
If a place isn’t enforcing masking or social distancing, Frels said he won’t patronize them.
“If I feel uncomfortable, I’m just going to turn around and walk out,” Frels said.
Longtime Woodland Heights resident Jay P. Francis said at 70, he’s at high risk of complications from COVID, and that he stopped attending a regular lunch on Thursday with friends because some of them had not yet been vaccinated like him.
Another Heights resident, Natalia Lombana Echeverri, said she too was vaccinated and also would continue masking indoors. She said she plans to shift to only eating at places that have a patio and a “reasonable amount of space between tables.”
She’s also “looking for places that have publicized information about safety precautions they’re taking” with their staff, including masking and temperature checks.
And if restaurants or bars need to raise their prices to accommodate increased wages and food prices and the price of implementing safety measures, Echeverri is more than willing to pay for those changes, she said.