Restaurant COVID Closure

Katy Hill, a hostess at Born & Raised, wipes down a table with a two-part disinfectant Friday evening. The Frederick restaurant temporarily closed upon hearing a member of their kitchen staff was asked by management at another job to be tested for COVID-19. The staffer subsequently tested positive.

In the span of a few days, at least six Frederick restaurants have announced temporary closures due to positive COVID-19 cases among staff members, and the virus' fickle nature has veteran restaurateurs tackling questions they never foresaw just 10 months ago.

Among the closed restaurants is Born & Raised, which opened just a few weeks ago at the former Family Meal restaurant on North East Street. Owner Dennis Hoffman found out Thursday morning through gossip that an employee was exposed and had gone to get tested. Before getting the results, Hoffman decided to close the restaurant.

Later that day, the employee indeed received a positive test result.

"If we had known, we would have told him he had to stay home," Hoffman said. "And we have benefits from that, so people will get paid when they’re out. But he chose not to tell us.”

Hoffman temporarily closed the restaurant for the safety of the staff and community, although he thinks transmissions in the well-ventilated and masked restaurant are unlikely. He’s frustrated to close so soon after opening and after putting guidelines in place for employees who suspect they’ve been exposed.

While businesses can put guidelines in place for their employees, there aren’t any hard and fast rules for businesses themselves to follow once they have a positive COVID-19 case. They are not required to close at all, and they are only recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the Frederick County Health Department to notify all employees who might have been within six feet of the infected employee for 15 minutes.

Businesses do not have to close their doors after a known infection, but it is recommended they close off any contaminated areas and sanitize as thoroughly as possible, Frederick County Health Officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer said in an email to the Frederick News-Post in October.

The decision, then, is largely a moral one — putting many restaurants into complicated situations.

For Jim Hickey, owner of The Orchard on North Market Street, making the decision to close wasn’t hard. After being closed for six weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, he implemented plans for what would happen if an employee tested positive for COVID.

“We knew it could happen any time,” he said. “It's a loss of income but there's been some grant money floating around and we're keeping our head above water."

An employee who worked at the restaurant last Saturday night believed they may have been exposed to COVID-19 at their other job. At that job — another restaurant — an employee who also had a second job had started developing symptoms, and they eventually tested positive.

"It seems like it's spreading among the restaurant crowd downtown," Hickey said.

Since posting about the closure online, some customers have reached out asking about possible exposure. Hickey understands their concern, since eating at restaurants is still considered a higher risk activity.

"You just don’t want to make a bad call,” Hickey said. “You want to err on the side of caution and make sure your clients know you’re going to do what you can to keep not only your staff, but your customers, safe.”

Still, he said, the lack of strict guidelines can be confusing.

"But we're trying to figure out what's our policy and stick with it," Hickey said. "Because we're all kind of flying by the seat of our pants here."

Another downtown restaurant that recently shut its doors temporarily was Brewer's Alley. According to a post on its website, management became aware of an employee who tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, at which point they closed. Two more cases were reported among employees in the next two days.

Justin Gosnell, a bartender at Brewer’s Alley for the last eight years, said he was distraught to see many people commenting negatively about the closure on Reddit and Facebook, criticizing the establishment for not being more transparent.

"I think [restaurant leadership] followed to a T what they were told by the Health Department and the CDC,” Gosnell said. “And whether or not people agree with that or think that's the right thing, that’s a different story."

The Health Department did not find any violations at Brewer's Alley and had not written them any citations, Rissah Watkins, director of planning, assessment and communication for the health department, wrote in an email. She did confirm, however, that the restaurant had been in touch with the department for guidance.

Gosnell said he and several employees were told directly by management that they may have been exposed to the virus. Some employees, he said, asked questions to try to find out who the employees were. But businesses are not permitted to release the names of those infected due to HIPAA.

The bartender believes restaurants are held to a higher standard by the general public when it comes to closures and disclosing information. He thinks the law should require businesses to close if they have a case, citing that many businesses, including big-box stores, have not closed at all since the beginning of the pandemic. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have employees with positive cases.

"I applaud any restaurant right now that is even just closed ... anyone making that call right now in the community,” he said. "I'm very grateful they're doing that.”

Bushwaller's Pub on North Market is also temporarily closed. In a Facebook post, management stated a few employees had started showing symptoms of COVID-19 and they decided to close immediately instead of waiting for results.

Just down North Market, The Tasting Room also shut its doors for several days before reopening Thursday evening, only to close down again Friday night. A Facebook post after the first shutdown stated owner Jarrett Walsh's wife had received a positive COVID test, so Walsh decided to close the restaurant.

After Walsh and his two children received three consecutive negative tests — and no employees tested positive for COVID — the restaurant reopened Thursday.

But then came Friday.

"It is with a very heavy heart that I have to announce another Covid related closure at [Tasting Room]," a second social media post notes. "Completely unrelated to my wife Beth’s false positive from last Saturday, late last night we had a kitchen staff member test positive. The positive staff member, who hasn’t been at the restaurant since last Saturday, was in contact with her brother Wednesday night. Her brother received a negative test on Wednesday afternoon and was allowed to come back to work yesterday."

The post continued, "He wore a mask the entire time but it is still a connection to a positive and you all know how seriously I take any link to a positive test. As painful as this is, we’ll be closing the doors to have the entire staff retested, again."

Evidenced by The Tasting Room situation, when to reopen is tricky. Hickey said he didn't want his employees to get tested too soon, since a test would probably not register the virus right after the exposure. But now that test results are starting to come back in, he's trying to make a decision on when to open his doors again.

"We were prepared. We were kind of assuming this would happen sooner or later with the big spike going up," he said. "The problem is, do we reopen next week and then have again after we shut down? So it's a little bit disconcerting, to say the least."

Follow Erika Riley on Twitter: @ej_riley

(39) comments

Frayou

Being retired & considered more vulnerable the Wife and I become frustrated when going to retailers to purchase necessities observing others wearing masks under their noses, chins or not at all. So I have little faith questioning behaviors behind the seems no matter the good intentions of business owners. The thought of someone working over a hot stove or oven prepping food, sweating or breathing over it without a mask or not wearing it properly should concern everyone. It’s a matter of human behavior to do what takes steps of least resistance with anything we do, include food preparation both sit down, pickup and drive through.

ma23464

You can’t catch the virus by eating it.

Frayou

Know how COVID-19 is spread

• You can become infected by coming into close contact (about 6 feet or two

arm lengths) with a person who has COVID-19. COVID-19 is primarily spread from person to person.

• You can become infected from respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.

• You may also be able to get it by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then by touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Greg F

Not necessarily true...and no reasonable accommodatjon can endanger others.

MD1756

While his statement is not necessarily true, Dr. Oz just today said there is no known transmission of the virus through food. Therefore the risk of transmission by eating food essentially does not exist.

jth7100

Believe me, if this virus only attacked people not wearing a mask, I am all for it. Natural selection and clearing out the dead wood. Alas, it is primarily to help others and therefore not a plan that Republics would like.

jth7100

The Trump vaccine? Holy crap, are you an idiot.

jth7100

Did anyone ever die wearing a seat belt? Bosco, you are so predictable.

jth7100

The Trump vaccine? OMG, unless it was developed on a golf course, be quiet.

Frankle1

And this is exactly why I haven't been to a restaurant since March. It's high risk. You can't keep a mask on while you're eating. Why expose these employees and yourself? Get carryout. Stop eating IN restaurants. Especially right now- cases and hospitalizations at highest point ever in Frederick. The state won't mandate it, so we all need to exercise personal responsibility and stay home when we can and stop doing non-essential activities. You don't NEED to eat IN a restaurant. Hunker down. Show some respect for our front line health care workers who are strained and getting burnt out. Overburdened hospitals have higher death rates. Vaccine on the way.

Fredginrickey

I will frequent the closed restaurants because they closed, rather than expose patrons. Their actions to mitigate the spread is a positive in my opinion. Can’t wait until they reopen. Well done.

sevenstones1000

Let me guess, you own one of the restaurants.

bosco

If everyone in the establishment wears a mask and is hand washing/sanitizing, where is the science for the need to close? Are masks not effective?

[ninja]

duffy5x

Being deliberately obtuse again, I see. How tiresome.

bosco

If my asking questions that need to be answered annoys you, scroll on by and join the flock of sheeple who don't question authority.

Now, do you suppose Costco, Walmart, Home Depot, or Lowes would close if an employee tests positive?

[ninja]

govtmule57

Masks are effective at reducing spread, but they aren't 100%. It might be useful to think of it as an analog to a soldier's body armor. The armor helps, but it does not eliminate the hazards faced.

public-redux

It has been pointed out to bosco multiple times that masks are effective more than 0% and less than 100% but he apparently hasn’t understood that yet.

duffy5x

"Sheeple?" That's hilarious in its banality and predictability.

Frankle1

Masks are effective, but when you eat, you have to take it off... Not a difficult concept.

bosco

Restaurant staff wearing masks and distancing between tables - where is the problem if one removes the mask to eat? What is the science there?

[ninja]

MD1756

Here is a link to an article about a CDC study: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/09/11/covid-cdc-study-adults-coronavirus-twice-likely-have-dined-out/3468040001/

shiftless88

The problem is that masks do better to protect others than they do to protect you. If someone has the virus and is not wearing a mask, you still have a decent chance of catching it even if YOU are (assuming it isn't just a quick contact). So the patrons not wearing the masks while they eat indoors is really the problem. Which is why they should only open outdoors.

MD1756

It is difficult at best to eat and/or drink while wearing a mask unless you're on an intravenous liquid diet and if yo are, you won't be going to a restaurant. Additionally, too many people still don't properly wash their hands (that is the ones that do wash).

bosco

I wonder what some of these people will do when the Trump vaccine is readily available to everyone and 42 percent of the population refuse it? [ninja]

shiftless88

I think the people who will refuse it are the same people not wearing masks.

public-redux

Is the Trump vaccine like Trump steaks, Trump water, Trump shuttle, and Trump 2020 presidential victories?

Brookhawk

I already took the Trump vaccine - I voted for Biden.

MRS M

[thumbup]

duffy5x

No one will be taking a "trump vaccine" since it only exists in your fevered brain.

phydeaux994

shiftless answered your question bosco. The 42% of Trump enablers will only believe what Donald John Trump says, no one else. They will threaten and even kill people who tell them otherwise. They have no concept of truth, not one iota of common sense, only what this sick, seriously mentally ill, sadistic, man/child tells them to believe. And you’re one of that 42% bosco, Worshiping Trump who doesn’t give a crap about you, only your vote. Remember who the SUCCESSFUL Political Party has been since 1988, it starts with a D.

Greg F

The idiots show up infected. There are still chances to get it...reduced, burg when one is known infected you do what you have to. And I cam tell you I’ve been to enough places where food prep weren’t wearing properly...nor others there properly behind the counter.

sevenstones1000

"If we had known, we would have told him he had to stay home," Hoffman said. .... “But he chose not to tell us.”

Why is this not a crime?

So all these small businesses begging us to keep patronizing them - staff intentionally go to work while infected. This is ridiculous.

MRS M

seven, you're right. Yesterday it was reported that a couple were identified on a United Airlines Flight who knew they were Covid infected but stil boarded and flew to Hawaii. They were both arrested when the flight landed in Hawaii.

However, when I read the article, my primary takeaway was one of an overwhelming respect for the actions of all the restaurant owners mentioned, who seem to have promptly closed when the problem was identified. A courageous and highly responsible move, demanding our respect for taking this quick action in the interest of public health and our community, in what is their busiest season. AND, this during a time when the end of this long battle seems nowhere in site. Pretty remarkable people who deserve our respect and admiration, IMHO.

Dwasserba

Crime? Guidelines are not enforceable by law. People need paychecks. So much conflicting information as in, you hear of places (cough: Philadelphia) hospital personnel are *expected* to work infected unless too obviously ill. Our niece (respiratory therapist) is home now and before she realized, infected her husband and baby, also home. So you might think, well, I have no obvious symptoms and my work is shortstaffed too. You might worry that where you work could close for good. If you don't have compromised people among friends and family, the warnings just don't carry the same weight.

sevenstones1000

Well I hope those people who knowingly worked after being exposed are real proud of themselves for the destruction they caused.

Dwasserba

Phila is short staffed. We don't approve. Our niece has two other kids, one a four year old cancer survivor. Stayed home the minute she knew she was exposed. Enjoy your high horse.

sevenstones1000

Your niece did the right thing. I applaud her. No high horse, just sick of people thinking the rules don’t apply to them.

Brookhawk

If you shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre where there is no fire, and people are injured or killed in the stampede to get out, yes, you have committed a crime. Take your illness to work, especially where you prepared and serve food, and don't mention it to the boss - that's akin to shouting "Fire" IMO.

duffy5x

Do you understand the concept of qualitative data versus quantitative data? Clearly not....

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