VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. – There are two numbers that Francesco Cionti watches closely – the number of meals he serves at the Spasso Cucina Italiana and the number of COVID cases confirmed in Ventura County. As one goes up, the other goes down and this week, he says, has been alarmingly slow.
“Slow like November slow," he said. "Like when the beach in the wintertime when nobody is around.”
Things haven’t been easy with the rules constantly changing. Cionti says things had started to pick up again after he reopened his dining room with limited seating but now dining in is off the table.
“It’s all closed," he sighed, "so I only rely on five tables in the patio which is not that much.”
He’s even noticed take-out orders are dwindling.
“I can feel there is more fear," he said of his patrons. "I think people watch the numbers in the county go up and they decide to stay home.”
And the numbers are going up – both in terms of positive cases and hospitalizations. County officials announced Wednesday that 79 people are hospitalized… up from about 30 in the past few weeks. ICU beds are also reaching capacity leading Ventura County Medical Center to launch their surge plan.
“We are seeing patients in that surge space," Dr. John Fankhauser, CEO of the facility, said. "Our ICU is full.”
What’s especially troubling, officials say, is that more than a quarter of the people in Ventura County who have tested positive for COVID-19 had no symptoms whatsoever. Which is why they said it’s so important for residents to wear masks, wash hands, and above all limit their social interactions or, they warn, it could reach a point where hospitals are overwhelmed.
“There is a limit to how much we can surge," Dr. Fankhauser said, "We can’t continue on the path we are on right now.”
Officials are calling on residents to do their part and Cionti is calling on them too. He doesn’t think the county reopened too quickly. He thinks it all comes down to individual behavior.
“Maybe this might help," he said, holding up his face mask. "If everybody would wear that....but now it’s the law, thank God.”
If the numbers don’t start improving, he’s worried that this three week closure of indoor dining could extend through the summer. And that could be catastrophic for Spasso and other restaurants in this ocean side town.
“It will be rough," Cionti said. "Because this is the season where we actually make the money to survive the winter.”
Restaurant survival often comes down to numbers but in this case, the numbers are out of his control.