▶️ Restaurants work around employees’ increased COVID exposure

By ANYSSA BOHANAN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Two Bend restaurants, The Blacksmith and The Victorian Café, made announcements via social media just hours apart Monday night about employees’ possible exposure to COVID-19.

According to its Facebook post, The Blacksmith announced that an employee at another establishment had tested positive for COVID-19 where one of Blacksmith’s employees also worked.

That employee has been tested.

“We were told that it’s highly unlikely since this employee didn’t have a lot of direct contact with the person that tested positive,” said owner Nekole Bardwell. “But it just wasn’t worth the risk.”

They made the decision to close until test results came back, which could be days.

Bardwell says that any closure could be a financial hit, but the safety of others takes precedence.

“As a small business, being open is really, really crucial to us. But at the same time, closing is far more important than our entire staff getting sick or even guests,” Bardwell said.

Just a couple of hours after The Blacksmith’s post, Victorian Café owner John Nolan addressed public discussion that one of his employees had tested positive for the virus two weeks ago.

“The message came out yesterday and it just blew up like a brushfire, and then rumors took off from it,” said Nolan. “Some of the stuff was pretty abusive and aggressive towards me.”

Nolan says that it’s been more than two weeks since the diagnosis and the employee has not returned to work.

Ultimately they decided not to shut the restaurant down after the employee’s diagnosis.

“The reason we didn’t say anything is because we dealt with it internally, but there was no concern from the Health Department about contagion or transfer, it wasn’t that situation,” said Nolan. “Had it been different, we would have dealt with it differently. Nothing that we do is ever with any ill intent.”

Nolan says they are continuing to follow all OLCC protocol to continue keeping guests and customers safe.

According to the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association and Deschutes County Public Health, while employees are not allowed to work if they are diagnosed with the virus, they’re not legally *required* to divulge if they’re feeling ill.

“We certainly hope that employees feel comfortable letting their employers know that they’re feeling under the weather, but, right now, I don’t believe that it’s required that they tell anyone that they’re feeling sick much like they wouldn’t need to tell anyone about any other medical conditions,” George Astley, Director of Government Affairs with the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association said.

Deschutes County Health says restaurants concerned about a possible exposure usually choose to shut down out of an abundance of caution.

But it’s completely up to them.

“Sometimes they haven’t had the time or the resources to come up with their policy, and so they’re just dealing with it as they can,” said Astley. “You’ll see that some restaurant operations have shut down voluntarily.”

Astley says that the majority of cases within the restaurant industry aren’t coming from the workplace itself, but rather employees attending small gatherings and returning to work.

However, there are requirements at the state, and local levels, that restaurants are required to follow in order to continue keeping employees, and guests, safe.

“We certainly do want to continue to be leaders and make sure people follow those guidelines so that we can stay open, and we still want people to come and visit obviously,” Astley said.

Astley added that the Association is working to create a model for what to do if an employee feels that they have the coronavirus based on modeling from organizations like the CDC and World Health Organization.

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