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Curfews bring challenges for Providence businesses

Amid high COVID-19 rates, some call for certain restrictions to be removed

Curfews imposed in Rhode Island to curb the spread of COVID-19 have been painful for local businesses, prompting some to call for the state to remove certain restrictions.

“They are not able to serve the same number of patrons that they once served,” Ward 1 Councilman John Goncalves told The Herald. “Small businesses have faced a sharp decline in revenue and they employ a key swath of the Providence workforce.”

The curfew, implemented Nov. 8, states that casinos, restaurants, gyms and bars are required to close by 10 p.m. on weekdays and 10:30 p.m. on weekends.  

Rajesh Mahajan, manager of Kabob and Curry on Thayer Street, described the restaurant’s decline in business. “In January when students would come back, our entire restaurant used to be full,” Mahajan said. “Now, for the whole day, we have had only three or four tables.” 

Mahajan said that the restaurant is in no position to decide on whether or not the curfew should remain.

Despite the decline in business, Kabob and Curry remains dedicated to public health measures set by the Rhode Island government. “We will follow whatever the government says,” Mahajan said. It is important for the restaurant to adhere to public health measures, he said, in order to maintain customers’ trust. Loyal customers have been crucial during the restaurant’s tough times, he said.

“While we are struggling, people have been very kind to order food from us,” Mahajan said. “Brown is like a second family to all of us.”

Other restaurants on Thayer such as Chinatown and Mike’s Calzones are also among the businesses that have suffered during the pandemic, partly because the curfew has disrupted the restaurants’ normal late-night customer base. 

“While we are still maintaining good business and our loyal customers, after the pandemic our business has decreased,” wrote Mike Boutros, the owner of Mike’s Calzones and Chinatown, in a message to The Herald. 

Boutros believes that the curfew is causing more people to come in at the same times, leading to crowding and longer wait times.

Still, public health experts say the curfew measures are necessary during the pandemic.

“We understand that some of the limits put in place to address the pandemic have caused significant hardships for some businesses,” wrote Dr. Philip Chan, associate professor of medicine at Brown, in an email to The Herald. “However, we have found these efforts with social and public gatherings have successfully helped reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Since the current round of guidelines have been put in place, we have seen an overall reduction in the number of cases and percent positivity of COVID-19 tests.”

Goncalves cosponsored a resolution in the Providence City Council calling for Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office to remove curfews on small businesses and allow them to resume normal hours of operation. The resolution, which was removed from the docket by Goncalves before it could be voted on at a Jan. 21 City Council meeting, would have formally asked Raimondo to repeal certain restrictions.

Goncalves said that “alarming” case counts of COVID-19 in the state motivated him to withdraw, as did the forthcoming transition of power from Raimondo, who will soon begin her post in the Biden administration as Secretary of Commerce, to Lt. Gov. Dan McKee. “With a likely change in leadership in the governor’s office, we wanted to get a better understanding of Gov. (Dan) McKee’s plans before putting forth this resolution,” Goncalves said. In the interim, Goncalves said he will defer to public health experts before reintroducing the resolution. 

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color in the state makes the situation even more dire, he added.

“We need to look at our elderly and communities of color in Providence, who are being disproportionately impacted by the spread of COVID-19, and to make sure they have everything they need before we enact this kind of resolution,” Goncalves said.

For now, public health experts continue to express optimism about the efficacy of the curfew and other measures.

“While our data over the last few days is very encouraging, we need to remain focused right now on our infection prevention measures and keep our numbers going in the right direction,” Chan wrote. “We are by no means out of the woods. … We are committed to reopening our economy in a safe and structured way.”


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