Boston licensing officials may sanction a West Roxbury restaurant where Republican leaders gathered earlier this month and appeared to flout COVID-19 social distancing protocols, according to photos from the event posted online.
A former state representative, congressional candidate, and a few dozen others gathered at West on Centre for a “Lincoln’s Day Breakfast” event where many attendees appeared to be maskless, even in close quarters. The city’s Licensing Board is aware of the event and plans to call the restaurant’s managers to a violation hearing, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Geoff Diehl, a US Senate candidate in 2018 who is reportedly considering a 2022 run for governor, posted a series of photos from the mid-February event showing a buffet station with several chafing dishes, and attendees serving themselves beverages and listening to speakers. Diehl and others, including Mark Littles, a Republican candidate for Congress, are pictured without masks in selfies. Attendees, including Diehl and Littles, did not return requests for comment, nor did representatives for Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, and the Massachusetts GOP.
For many state and county Republican parties, “Lincoln Day” is a major fund-raising event. Massachusetts restaurants are allowed to operate at 40 percent capacity under strict requirements. Customers may remove masks only “in the actual act of eating and drinking.”
“Self-serve, unattended buffets, topping bars, drink stations, and other communal serving areas must remain closed,” according to the state’s restrictions. Restaurants may be fined as much as $500 per violation.
Managers for West on Centre did not respond to questions about whether the event observed COVID-19 restrictions. A woman who answered the phone at the restaurant said only that the event was a “non-story.”
Masks and other coronavirus restrictions have become a political flashpoint over the past year, with many Republicans denouncing business closures and capacity limits as an unfair or even unconstitutional infringement on owners and customers. The state GOP’s website urges supporters to sign a petition to “stop the small business killing Democrats,” and Diehl has been vocal in arguing that Baker, a moderate Republican, has taken restrictions too far.
Public health experts say indoor gatherings, especially at close quarters, present a risk of COVID-19 transmission. Indoor dining is particularly dangerous because individuals may gather with people outside their own households and take off their masks to eat and drink.