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Restaurants Across the Country Are Closing After Workers Test Positive for COVID-19

As states begin to allow restaurants to reopen, service industry workers are again at high risk of catching and spreading the novel coronavirus

Long blond wood tables and plastic blue chairs are marked with Xs in blue and yellow tape to mark where patrons should sit according to social distancing guidelines.

People are understandably tired of staring at the same four walls and eating the same four (or maybe five) dishes for months on end. And as restaurants reopen, diners have jumped at the chance to sit in a restaurant’s dining room, or on a patio, and eat something — anything — new. Not so fast, though, because the reopening experiment isn’t going great thus far.

As states and cities move from one stage of their reopening plan to the next, there’s a sense that the pandemic is over, or at the very least, has been subdued. On the contrary, cases have spiked in states that were too quick to lift restrictions on restaurants and other businesses where people congregate. Across the country, an ominous, costly cycle is playing out: A restaurant reopens, a case of COVID-19 is detected, the restaurant closes to sanitize, employees are tested, and the restaurant excitedly announces a reopening plan — again.

In California’s San Gabriel Valley, national bakery chain Nothing Bundt Cakes closed two locations this week, after employees tested positive with the virus. In Las Vegas, where many restaurants and casinos opened just days after restrictions were lifted, service employees at five restaurants have contracted COVID-19, forcing the businesses to shutter while they sanitize and test, and those are just the diagnosed, self-reported cases. In Dallas, Texas, the same scenario. Since April, as cases have risen in Atlanta, a growing number of restaurants have shuttered and reopened because employees have fallen ill.

Restaurants hoping for a renewed rush during the summer months in Orange County, California, which reopened for business in late May, are facing the same harsh reality. As the county’s case count grows, and debates rage over requiring residents to wear face coverings in public, several restaurants have temporarily closed because of sick employees. The list includes A Restaurant in Newport Beach, which posted on Instagram that they would be closing for two days to “deep-clean” and “sanitize.” They also noted they would be testing all staff. Two days later, the restaurant was open again, and another Instagram photo advertised a “sassy cocktail” and outdoor seating for “those who would like to dine al fresco.”

These reopenings come at a great cost to service workers, many of whom have to weigh the risk of sickness against that of losing their source of income. The restaurants that close to test and sanitize mostly reopen, but what happens when a restaurant has closed two, three, five times? How much disruption can an independent business take? How many employees must get sick before we acknowledge that “normal” isn’t in our near future?