As workers test positive, restaurants around the country are closing for a second time

But operators say they are lacking clear guidelines about how to proceed when an employee contracts the coronavirus.
Yaga's Cafe
Photos courtesy of Yaga's Cafe

Even as more restaurants are allowed to increase their dining capacity around the country, restaurants in a number of states are being forced to reclose after employees test positive for the coronavirus.

It can be a huge hit to restaurants which had already been shuttered for many weeks. But, what’s more, operators say they are lacking in guidance in how to proceed if an employee contracts the virus.

The reclosing examples, from every corner of the U.S., are too numerous to list:

  • In Jacksonville, Fla., Lynch’s Irish Pub reclosed after more than a dozen customers said they contracted coronavirus after imbibing there. Seven employees tested positive. The pub reopened Tuesday, after a brief shut down to deep clean.
  • In Houston, where a growing list of restaurants have reclosed for sanitizing, Yaga’s Cafe said on Facebook that multiple employees have been found to have the coronavirus. “I will meet with the health department Monday and get advice on what next steps should be,” the owner wrote.
  • In the Phoenix area, where coronavirus cases continue to rise, a large number of restaurants have opted to reclose in the past week after employees tested positive for the virus.
  • In Seattle, Fremont Brewing closed indefinitely just 10 days after reopening its patio. It was one of Seattle’s first restaurants to reopen for dine-in service. An employee tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. “We are actively seeking medical counsel to make sure we’re taking the strongest measures possible to ensure the safety of our customers and employees. We’ll re-open when it is deemed completely safe and prudent to do so,” the brewery posted.

The CDC offers some guidelines for bars and restaurants, but many operators say they are lacking in official guidance on how to proceed when an employee tests positive for COVID-19. They’re unclear whether they must reclose and, if so, for how long. So, they are having to create their own policies.

In Chicago, at least two employees in The Alinea Group tested positive for the virus earlier this month. With more than 300 employees, the group previously put protocols in place, in consultation with medical professionals, in case a worker contracted the illness, co-owner Nick Kokonas told Restaurant Business.

The restaurant group reviewed payroll records to find out when an infected employee was last on premises and who worked at the same time, Kokonas said. All employees who worked the same shift were notified and were required to get tested and notify HR of their results before returning to work, he said.  

The restaurant group reimbursed the cost for all employees who worked with the infected co-workers to get tested, Kokonas said on Twitter.

“It is not sustainable to shut operations every time an employee is sick or suspected of having COVID,” Kokonas said on Twitter. “With limited capacity, the cost of testing employees exceeds the profits from being open … The city, state and federal governments need to outline strict practices both for the safety of the public and the operational liability for businesses. And I simply don’t see that happening at all.”

In most states and cities, reclosing after an employee tests positive is up to restaurant operators. There is no clear checklist to follow in these situations.

Under the CDC guidelines, restaurant staff are encouraged to self-report if they have coronavirus symptoms, have tested positive or have been exposed to someone with the virus. Restaurants are also encouraged to designate a staff person for each shift to be responsible for responding to coronavirus concerns.

Restaurants are also urged to close off all areas used by an infected person for 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting them, according to the CDC guidelines. “If 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible,” the CDC states.

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