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Salvage BBQ & Smokehouse made an overly cautious decision earlier this week to close for at least 14 days after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Cautious and transparent decision making like this from the business community can help make the reopening process safer and less worrisome for customers and workers alike.
The Portland restaurant announced this week that it sent home an employee on May 23 who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. That employee had received a call during their Saturday shift alerting them that they had potentially been exposed to the virus, and according to Salvage, “had been on premises for under an hour” and was “primarily isolated” while on the premises. The positive test result came back on Sunday.
“To ensure the safety of our staff and customers. we will remain closed for business for a minimum of 14 days,” the restaurant said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “Our entire working staff, no matter how unlikely their potential contact, will be undergoing testing. The space will be thoroughly disinfected and additional safety precautions will be put in place moving forward in addition to our rigorous existing measures.”
This two-week closure goes above and beyond state and federal guidance. According to a frequently asked questions document from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, any critical infrastructure employee (which includes food workers) who shows symptoms of COVID-19 must be sent home immediately, surfaces in the workspace should be cleaned and disinfected and information about others who came in contact with the employee — including anyone else at the facility who came within 6 feet of them during and up to two days before the symptoms — should be collected. That state document also links to more guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“In most cases, you do not need to shut down your facility,” according to the federal interim guidance for businesses and employers. That guidance says that if it has been less than seven days since the sick employee has been at work, the business should “close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person” and, if possible, wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting the area in order to minimize the risk that other employees could be exposed to respiratory droplets. If it has been more than 7 days since the sick employee was at work, the U.S. CDC says that “routinely cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces” is sufficient.
Also, according to the state, not all employers are required to notify the Maine CDC when an employee tests positive. Those who are required to report positive tests are health care providers, medical labs, health care facilities, administrators, health officers and veterinarians. And while close contacts of the sick employee must be notified, “An employer is not required to notify any other employees that are not close contacts, but may do so if they choose.”
So again, Salvage appears to be taking a particularly cautious and transparent approach to this positive test. In its message to the public, Salvage also highlighted the proactive concern of the employee who tested positive.
“It is because of this person’s attentiveness and concern for the community that we were able to act quickly and make the necessary informed decisions. It is in this same spirit of responsibility that we pass this message,” Salvage said.
This may not be a blueprint that other Maine businesses can follow exactly, but caution like that being shown by Salvage BBQ will continue to be an important component of the reopening process as businesses try to salvage as much economic activity as possible this summer season and beyond.
“Provided we have the necessary assurances from the Maine CDC and assuming we are confident it is safe for our staff and customers, we plan to reopen for business on Tuesday, June 9,” the restaurant added in its statement on Facebook. “We hope that you’ll join us for some BBQ then and continue to have confidence that we take every precaution to ensure the safety of our customers and our team members.”
We hope that customers will reward, rather than avoid, businesses that are transparent about employees testing positive for COVID-19, and about the cautious steps that they are taking to keep customers and staff as safe as possible in a world beset by risk.
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease