Alabama allows buffets to reopen despite surge in virus cases

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Las Vegas buffet to reopen

Alabama allowed buffet restaurants to reopen this week with few restrictions despite a recent surge of coronavirus cases.

Buffets, salad bars and self-serve soda fountain stations, which were shut down in March, were given a green light Monday following a revised “Safer at Home” health order issued by the state late last week.

In the spring, public health officials ordered the closures of buffets, calling them potential hotbeds for the virus.

»LAST WEEK: University of Alabama orders faculty to keep quiet about outbreak

To get around that, many of the establishments changed their traditional business models to stay open, with expedient safety measures such as rearranged seating and a switch to cafeteria or table service.

The state’s new mandate now provides the clearest guidance yet on the self-service format. Some business owners will next have to determine whether it’s economically feasible to return to the buffet format.

Either way, the state’s new order allows self-serve dining only if restaurants provide hand sanitizer and “encourage customers” to use it.

»FROM MAY: Coronavirus likely has ended the soda fountain era at McDonald’s

Additionally, the order calls for one restaurant employee to be assigned to enforce social distancing measures in the dining room and at food stations.

Some of the restaurants that abandoned the traditional buffet in recent months now plan to stay that way.

Three Wind Creek casinos in Alabama are not planning a comeback for buffet areas after converting them to table service dining, according to AL.com.

»FROM JULY: Coca-Cola modifies soda machines so customers can order drinks by phone

“At this time, we do not plan to reopen as a traditional buffet in any of our Alabama locations,” said spokeswoman Magi Thomley Williams.

More than 128,000 coronavirus infections have been reported in Alabama, with 11,463 new cases coming in the last two weeks, AL.com reported.

At least 2,217 have died, according to state data.

Employee enforcers

Meanwhile, a national study this week by the nonprofit agency Oxfam America found Alabama was the worst state in America to work during the pandemic, according to AL.com.

Across the country, employees have been given the unenviable task of enforcing pandemic policies, sometimes with deadly consequences.

»AUGUST: Teen’s jaw smashed after asking guest to wear mask at Sesame Place

In August, a 17-year-old employee at the Sesame Place children’s theme park near Philadelphia needed a tooth removed and double jaw surgery after he was punched in the face for asking two guests to wear face masks.

In late July, a Pennsylvania man opened fire on a store clerk who asked him to wear a face mask and then allegedly opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle when authorities showed up to arrest him the next day.

»RELATED: Man accused of firing AK-47 at police after refusing to wear mask

Before that, two men got into a brawl with Trader Joe’s employees for not wearing face masks inside the store.

In early May, three people were charged in the shooting death of a Family Dollar security guard in Michigan who asked customers to wear masks as they entered the store.

»MORE: 3 McDonald’s employees expected to survive after customer opened fire

Just days later, three employees of an Oklahoma City McDonald’s restaurant were shot after telling a 32-year-old female customer that the dining room was closed as a pandemic precaution and that she wouldn’t be able to eat there.