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Texas pauses phased reopening as restaurants around the country proactively re-close

With coronavirus rates continuing to surge, some operators are shutting down before their employees or customers test positive.
Photo courtesy of Riel Restaurant

With coronavirus rates surging in his state and others, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Thursday put the brakes on the phased reopening of his state’s economy. Meanwhile, restaurants around the country are proactively re-closing, at least temporarily, to test their employees and ramp up safety precautions as COVID-19 cases continue to climb.

In Texas, which is second to California in its number of restaurants, dining rooms that were already permitted to be open at 75% capacity can continue to operate. But further reopening has been put on hold for an undetermined amount of time, according to the executive order.

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” Abbott said in a statement. “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business.”

A number of other states are also considering rolling back or halting their reopening plans, as coronavirus cases continue to rise in many areas.

Already, restaurants around the country have re-closed after their employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Now, though, as viral hotspots pop up, a number of operators are proactively re-closing their dining rooms even if they haven’t seen any coronavirus cases in their establishments.

Riel Restaurant in Houston, where the city’s hospitals are reaching maximum capacity with coronavirus patients, decided to preemptively shut down last week to test all 20 employees.

“There were so many cases down here and literally every day there is one or two restaurants with people testing positive,” chef-owner Ryan Lachaine said. “I don’t want that to happen on my watch. I don’t want my staff getting sick from a patron. I don’t want patrons getting sick from staff.”

The 65-seat restaurant found free testing facilities for all employees. The restaurant, which only recently re-opened at 50% capacity, is still waiting on all of the test results before reopening. So far, all tests have been negative.

Lachaine said he encourages his employees to “be safe and not be stupid” and to avoid going out after work to bars and clubs.

Katy, Texas-based Kolache Factory, which has 27 company stores and 30 franchised units, said this week it would immediately re-close all of its dining rooms after opening them at half capacity on June 12.

“When you’re right there in what is emerging as a hotspot, there’s a lot of nervousness, a lot of uncertainty,” Kolache Factory spokeswoman Jennifer Williams said. “At the end of the day, the risk isn’t worth it.”

The dining room closure remains in effect until “things calm down again,” Williams said.

In Cincinnati, chef-owner Daniel Wright decided to temporarily close four restaurants in the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood this week to test all employees for the virus.

The only way our company can guarantee everyone’s safety and discovering asymptomatic employees is through mandatory testing,” Wright wrote on Facebook. “Taking care of staff & our guests is our top priority. Today we will close all of our OTR spots to preemptively test all of our staff so that we can absolutely ensure everyone’s safety. Perhaps this is something restaurants consider doing monthly or bi-monthly until we’re through this.” 

In Dallas, vegan restaurant and bar Shoals Sound & Service had only been open a handful of days (after a pandemic closure and curfew sparked by recent protest) before it decided to re-close because of surging coronavirus cases.

“This place is a shotgun bar. It’s really difficult to get six feet of distance anywhere,” owner Omar Yeefoon said. “The likelihood of no one on my tiny, five-person staff getting through the next few months without anyone testing positive or not getting sick is not very likely.”

Restaurants in which employees or customers have tested positive risk facing negative press and fearful customers. Yeefoon wanted to avoid that future risk by shutting down indefinitely right now, even though the decision caused him several sleepless nights.

“You’re going to have people not wanting to come into your place,” he said. “They’re going to think, Someone got sick there. And I’m going to wait to go back there. Mitigating that situation was really important to me, as well as just preventing people from getting sick.”

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