- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2020

Taco Bell on Saturday announced plans to potentially close down its dining rooms to customers in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country.

Mark King, the chief executive officer of Taco Bell Corp., said in a statement that the company is considering measures it may take to help stop the outbreak from worsening.

“As regions of the U.S. begin to mandate public closures and self-quarantine, we are equipping our restaurants to serve our guests via drive-thru and delivery only where necessary,” said Mr. King.

By temporarily closing Taco Bell dining rooms, Mr. King said the fast-food chain would be limiting “millions of guest interactions” and further enabling the recommended practice of “social distancing.”

Taco Bell is also revising the sick leave policy in place at its company-owned stores across the country so that workers who are required to stay home or employed at a location that is closed are compensated for their regularly scheduled hours while away, Mr. King continued, adding that the company is encouraging its franchise partners to take similar measures.

“We are going to redefine what it means to be a social brand during this coronavirus pandemic, while at the same time keeping our team members safe, and continuing to provide our fans with the delicious Taco Bell food they love,” he said in the statement.

Taco Bell and its franchise partners serve over 42 million customers each week through nearly 7,000 locations in the U.S., according to the company’s website. Glen Bell opened the first Taco Bell location in 1962, and 100 had opened as of five years later, according to the site.

The number of cases of individuals in the U.S. who have contracted COVID-19, the infectious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has swelled in recent days to 2,226, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Saturday.

Discussing the pandemic during a White House press conference Saturday, President Trump said that roughly 50 people have died from COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has recommended that individuals practice “social distancing” and avoid large gatherings in order to prevent the disease from spreading.

Several festivals and other large events across the nation have been canceled or postponed this week in an effort to curb the outbreak, while several countries abroad have announced restrictions aimed at reducing the number of COVID-19 infections. Italy recently ordered non-essential retailers to close their doors, and France and Spain separately announced similar restrictions Saturday.

Taco Bell is hardly the only major American company to be impacted by the outbreak. Apple announced Friday that it would close all of its retail stores outside of China, including more than 200 in the U.S., until March 27.

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