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Restaurants reimplement COVID-19 guidelines as Delta variant spreads

Restaurants are encouraging masks again, and some are even closing down their inside dining rooms.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Arkansas, restaurants are starting to put restrictions back in place.

It almost feels like déjà vu. 

Restaurants are encouraging masks again, and some are even closing down their inside dining rooms.

Owners said they just want to keep everyone safe, while providing a good example.

"It's just about getting to that herd immunity and if this is what it takes, that's what we got to do," Daniel Bryant, owner of Hill Station, said.

"For now, with things going the way they are and the uncertainty in the air we're just going to hang back for a little bit and see what happens," Jack Sundell, co-owner of The Root Café, said. 

From Hillcrest to SOMA, local restaurants are bringing back COVID policies and restrictions, once again.

Bryant is changing his protocols this week.

"We are now requiring all of our employees, whether they're vaccinated or not, to wear masks and we're re-encouraging all of our patrons to do the same," he said.

It was a decision that got zero push back from Bryant's mostly vaccinated staff, but one he described as frustrating. 

"It just seems like we're coming at this backward. We've got vaccinated people wearing masks to protect the general public from folks who are not vaccinated and that's really not going to solve the problem," he said.

If the numbers continue to climb and vaccination rates don't increase, Bryant said he could crack down on protocols even more.

"It's all about the vaccinations," he said. "We need everybody to get vaccinated and if we have to do more, we'll do it."

Bryant isn't in this alone though.

The Root Café decided to close their indoor dining room on Thursday. The restaurant had just reopened the area following the Fourth of July, according to Sundell.

"It's something we had been working towards for about three months, to get everything ready again, and it just happened to time really unfortunately with an ongoing surge in Arkansas," he said.

Sundell said it's a decision that mostly came from staff. Many who have watched the numbers rise and worry about their own children, who can't be vaccinated.

"We want them to be safe and feel safe coming to work and we feel like the best way that we can take care of our staff's health is to not have people dining inside at this point," he said.

Both owners are just hoping to set a good example.

"We feel like we're doing the right thing for our staff, our community, and we hope, Little Rock as a whole," he said.

Esters, in Little Rock, also reinstated a mask mandate this week for staff members. 

They're also encouraging guests, no matter the vaccination status, to wear masks too.