Newly reopened restaurants close after employees test positive for COVID-19

Many bar and cafe owners have willingly shut down again to try and stop the spread of the deadly virus.
/ Source: TODAY

Coronavirus hasn't disappeared with the arrival of warmer weather, but many restaurants across the United States have started to reopen. However, many business owners have found that even if they follow the recommended reopening guidelines, those might not be enough to keep employees and customers safe.

Soon after opening up for indoor and outdoor table service, many restaurateurs have reported that employees are testing positive for COVID-19. Public health experts had warned that reopening too soon could result in such a spike. Now owners (many of whom were eager to get back to business), have decided to shutter once again.

In Florida, restaurant reopening dates were decided on a county-by-county basis since May, with eateries permitted to operate at 50% capacity. Pete Boland was excited to reopen his restaurant, The Galley in downtown St. Petersburg, on May 4. On June 12, however, when he learned that several of his workers had tested positive for the virus since reopening, he shut down service.

"We went table to table telling people it was last call at 7 p.m.," Boland told TODAY Food. He said that two of his employees who tested positive are a couple that live together. When more employees got sick, he made the call to voluntarily shut down. The bar and restaurant will remain closed until Boland can get tests for all of his current employees. But tests are currently in short supply, so he doesn't know when that day will come.

A post on Instagram informed potential patrons about The Galley owner's decision.

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Boland, who is also the co-owner of an Irish pub (Mary Margaret's), said he attributes the spike in cases to an influx of visitors from other states who flocked to St. Petersburg as Florida began to reopen sooner than other states. He also believes that many people in the hospitality industry work at multiple venues and socialize frequently with other workers.

"Our guests were interested in having fun," said Boland. "We didn’t know anyone that was sick so there was a general relaxation of the guard. There was skepticism because we weren’t feeling the pain."

Many states that have started to reopen, especially Florida, Arizona and Texas, have seen spikes in confirmed coronavirus cases, prompting many to wonder if it's happening too soon.

Restaurants in Arizona were permitted to reopen as early as May 11 with reduced occupancy based on restaurant's size and a 10-person per party party limit. Many, however, didn't open up until later in the month as they needed to prepare spaces and stock up on supplies.

The Maggiore Restaurant Group made the decision to shut down its eatery Hash Kitchen last Thursday when someone at the restaurant tested positive for coronavirus. Erica Knight, a spokesperson for Hash Kitchen, told TODAY that every precaution was being taken to make sure the eatery was properly sanitized and employees were screened before it reopened Friday.

"We found out last Thursday, June 11, that someone connected to the restaurant tested positive so we immediately decided to close," Knight said, adding that people in hazmat suits came to spray "down the entire place with a non-toxic chemical."

However, while Hash Kitchen reopened today, another Maggiore restaurant, The Sicilian Butcher, was closed due to a different individual testing positive for COVID-19. Moving forward, employees will be tested a minimum of every five days and the entire restaurant will be completely disinfected, she said.

Knight noted that restaurants are not required to even disclose if an employee tests positive for the virus. She added that the cost of reopening a restaurant, closing it and then reopening again is extremely high.

"Think of the food costs. They’re wasting $30,000 (worth) of food," she said.

Texas allowed restaurants to reopen on May 1 and increased capacity limits to 75% on June 12. There is currently no limit on outdoor seating in the Lone Star State. On Thursday, Texas reported 3,516 new cases of COVID-19.

Mike Dean of Yaga's Cafe and Beerfoot Brewery in Galveston, took to Facebook Saturday to let potential patrons know an employee had tested positive for coronavirus and that he would be closing the restaurant of his own accord.

"Here is our situation," the post began. "We had an employee test positive at Yaga’s yesterday afternoon. The only symptom was loss of taste. I decided to allow any employee for their personal sanity to go to Hospitality ER on MY dime to get tested. We have received more positive tests none of which were symptomatic and decided to push the pause button."

Dean has yet to announce a reopening date for his two eateries.

While some cautious citizens and health experts may not be surprised by the new closures, many loyal customers have taken to social media to let the restaurants know that they support their transparency and appreciate the decision to put safety first.

Since the shutdowns began in March, hundreds of restaurants across the U.S. have permanently closed and millions of food industry workers are unemployed.