ASHLAND Bar and restaurant owners are disappointed, but not surprised, by Gov. Andy Beshear's announcement Monday that bars must close and restaurants must cut back to 25% occupancy for two weeks to try to curb the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Larry Knipp, administrator for the Loyal Order of Moose 892 in Ashland, said his establishment has followed the recommended guidelines for operating and hasn’t seen any statistics on infections at bars, but he’d like to.

“(Beshear) is throwing things out there, but show us some numbers that the bars are contributing,” Knipp said. “From the time we reopened, the governor has made us feel like we were going to have to close again.” The Moose opened on June 29 after having been closed for neary a month.

After a series of COVID-19 case spikes, Beshear announced the move, which took effect at midnight Monday night. Outdoor capacity at restaurants can remain as is, but proper social distancing must continue to be observed.

He said the Moose hasn’t had karaoke or bands and has offered hand sanitizer to patrons.

“People are coming in with masks, and if they don’t have one, we offer them one,” he said. “We do have members with health problems and they aren’t coming in. We are down in numbers simply because of that.”

Knipp said it will be difficult to be closed for two weeks.

“We’ll make it. We’re not in dire straits,” he said. “But being shut down over the next two weeks will hurt. We can’t go on forever.”

Under normal circumstances, Ashland Elks Lodge 350 operates a kitchen daily. But Club Manager Bill Grace said the bar and the kitchen are closed as per the governor’s orders.

“We don't have enough food service to sustain being open,” Grace said.

He said he, too, wasn’t surprised but was disappointed by the announcement.

“We were absolutely disappointed,” he said. “We were just trying to get a little business built back up.”

He added he doesn't think bar and restaurant attendance has been responsible for the surge in COVID-19 cases and he doesn't think the closure will help.

“I don't see that two weeks is going to make a difference,” he said, noting he wouldn't be surprised if this two weeks turns into a longer period of time.

Jason Camp, owner and CEO of The 3J Group which owns The Winchester restaurant and guitar bar in The Delta by Marriott in Ashland and Smokin’ J’s Rib and Brewhouse in Boyd County, said he wasn’t surprised, either.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said. “In fact, I wrote a formal letter to the governor last week pleading with him not to put all the state’s restaurants back to 25% capacity.”

Camp, whose local businesses employ more than 100, said a different standard should apply to eastern Kentucky, where cases have been lower than the rest of the state.

“I was hoping we would just cut back to 30% at the restaurants,” he said. “I just hope in two weeks, we can get back to 50%. It’s a hard pill to swallow.”

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