A surge in cases of COVID-19 has caused the fast food chain to rethink its approach.

By Jelisa Castrodale
July 02, 2020
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By mid-June, McDonald's had reopened the indoor dining areas in about 2,200 of its 14,000 locations throughout the United States. That number isn't going to increase—at least not for the next three weeks. On Wednesday, McDonald's decided to temporarily pause its reopening plans, due to the increasing number of coronavirus cases that have been reported throughout the country.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the chain made the announcement in an internal letter, advising owners and franchisees that it will not be opening any additional dining rooms for at least 21 days. The restaurants that have already re-opened to dine-in customers have been advised to listen to local or state officials about whether to remain open or to return to drive-through, takeout, or delivery service only.

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"Our resiliency will be tested again," McDonald's U.S. President Joe Erlinger and Mark Salebra, the head of the National Franchisee Leadership Alliance wrote. "COVID-19 cases are on the rise—with a 65 [percent] increase in infections over the last two weeks. In the last seven days, 32 states saw increasing cases and this number appears to be growing."

Erlinger and Salebra's letter also repeated some now-familiar requirements; they said that McDonald's employees needed to wear gloves and masks during their shifts, while all customers who entered the restaurants should have face coverings "where applicable." Restaurant Business reports that they also recommended that managers continue to check employees' temperatures, sanitize "high touch surfaces," prioritize contactless payments, and ensure that both workers and customers are maintaining adequate social distance. However, in recent months, employees of both franchisee- and corporate-owned locations in Oakland, California and Chicago, Illinois have had to file suits against McDonald's to ensure such safety protocols are enforced.

Although McDonald's is the first restaurant chain to announce a temporary halt to its reopening plans, some city and state leaders have taken similar steps. On Wednesday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said that New York City would not allow indoor dining when it reaches Phase 3 of its reopening plan next week—a change of plans that he suggests is related to a downturn in "citizen compliance."

"I get it. I understand it. People have been inside a long time. The weather’s warm. I miss my friends. The governor says everything is good," he said. "What’s going to happen? The virus is going to spread. It’s that simple. It’s that clear. That is the reality. The virus spreads. We’re back to the mountain."

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio echoed those sentiments. "We particularly see problems revolving around people going back to bars and restaurants indoors. Indoors is the problem more and more. The science is showing it more and more,” he said. “So I want to make very clear: we cannot go ahead at this point in time with indoor dining in New York City.”

New Jersey has also postponed a return to indoor dining, and California governor Gavin Newsom ordered restaurants to re-close their dining areas in 19 counties for at least three weeks. "This doesn’t mean restaurants shut down,” he said. “It means we’re trying to take as many activities as we can [...] and move them outdoors.”

Meanwhile, McDonald's seemed to leave the door open to, well, keeping its doors closed a little longer. “Moving forward, we will continue to monitor the situation and adjust as needed to protect the safety of our employees and customers," Erlinger and Salebra wrote.