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Kentucky restaurants expand capacity to 50% amid concerns of COVID-19 spike

Following Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s COVID-19 guidelines, restaurants can now fill to 50% capacity.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. —

Beginning today, some restaurants in Kentucky may be able to add more tables for diners, but many restaurant owners said the new rule will do little to affect their bottom line. 

Dan Borsch is the owner of five restaurants in Louisville. Back in March, he told us he was forced to lay off the majority of his staff.

“It’s been absolutely crazy," said Borsch from Old Louisville Tavern, one of the restaurants he co-owns. 

He’s still serving his staples. 

“We’ve been lucky," he said. 

But it’s been a challenge. At Old Louisville Tavern, tables are spaced 6-feet apart. 

“If that means fewer people, so be it," he said. 

And if you’re not taking a bite, masks are mandatory. Following Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s COVID-19 guidelines, Borsch can now fill his restaurant to 50% capacity. 

“For us it’s not going to change our operations that much because we’re a smaller restaurant," he said. 

He said the new rule won’t really help his bottom line. 

“It’s such a low-margin business anyway," he said. 

Stacy Roof, president of the Kentucky Restaurant Association, said the restaurant guidelines make sense.  

“We know it’s for all the right reasons," said Roof. 

Yet she said of the state’s roughly 7,700 restaurants, the smallest ones, lacking room to socially distance, will be most vulnerable.

“That increasing capacity is not going to give them more guests," said Roof. 

But many worry more customers at other restaurants may lead to a spike in cases. 

“We do expect these numbers to go up somewhat," said Lucia Mullen, an analyst at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Mullen said Kentucky is one of 25 states that have seen a rise in new reported cases, compared to last week.

“What we want to make sure is are they going up at a rate where we can control," she said. 

Among her recommendations for restaurants reopening nationwide: space tables six feet apart, switch to disposable menus and tablecloths, clean high-touch surfaces, and prioritize better ventilated areas, like outdoor seating.

“So we don’t exponentially or greatly increase the risk of spreading COVID-19," Mullen said. 

Borsch said he’ll do his part. 

“We’re going to have to adapt," said Borsch. 

Borsch told us the cost of following COVID-19 safety measures has been devastating to his business. But it’s the right thing to do, and just hopes he can survive it until there’s a vaccine.

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►Contact reporter Paula Vasan at pvasan@whas11.com on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram