Contact tracking can help keep restaurant outbreaks at bay, experts say, but only in places without widespread infections. “I like to think that because of contact tracking and the rapid quarantine of close contacts, we haven’t had major explosions in restaurants,” said Melissa Lunt, director of nursing at the Graham County Department of Health in Arizona. When workers fell ill at two restaurants in the area, the health department moved quickly to quarantine them to prevent further spread of the community.
Testing is its own problem for workers. While many cities offer free tests, the results may take days or even weeks to return, leaving employees to leave a job while they wait.
“Many times the restaurant will consider the bill if they want quick testing through a private company,” said Dr. Alex Jahangir, chairman of a coronavirus working group in Nashville who has studied the role of restaurants and bars in his area. “Sometimes the restaurant tells their employees to come to one of our city locations, which is free, but the results can take up to three days. If people are symptomatic, sometimes the restaurant will refer the person to a local medical center and pay their health insurance for the test. “
Of course, low-wage restaurant employees, especially part-time employees, may not have health coverage. Or if they did, the layoffs could have jeopardized their ability to make payments on those plans.
Meanwhile, some homeowners are doing their best to keep up the good work and keep people safe, at great cost and inconvenience. Benjamin Goldberg, a founder of Strategic Hospitality, an eight-point group running in Nashville, has opened several home dining venues and kept other locations closed. In the meantime, he and his members have become mini-public health experts. “We did research on what countries around the world were doing and learned from them,” he said. “City and state guidance was just the basis of our expectations.”
Short time to test all those who worked or entered his restaurants – an impossibility – they moved to take the temperature of every customer, workshop and vendor before being allowed to enter. Employees are tested regularly for the virus. All the silverware comes in a sealed bag with stickers, the menus have gone virtual and the pens used to sign the checks have been sanitized and placed in a sealed bag.
“We felt if we could build that trust in the short term, it would pay off in the long run.”