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Restaurants, bars are opening up — and shutting down after employee COVID-19 cases

Posted at 6:41 PM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-24 20:57:40-04

Karrikin Spirits Company had the dubious honor, in May, of being one of the first reopened Cincinnati-area restaurants forced to figure out a strategy for dealing with a staffer’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Now, faced with the same situation, other local restaurateurs are coming to marketing director Matt Groves for advice.

“There’s no blueprint for how to do this right now,” Groves said Wednesday. “We’re learning as we go.”

The state of Ohio had never sent him instructions about how to deal with an in-house diagnosis, he said. His homebrew solution was to be cautious and then some: Shut down the distillery for a 10-day, medical-grade deep-cleaning and have every one of his employees tested for the virus.

“The biggest thing, we’d say, is transparency and honesty is key” during a COVID-related closure, Groves said.

Since Monday, at least six other local bars and restaurants have closed their doors due to confirmed or suspected worker diagnoses. An asymptomatic worker at Patio BBQ prompted owner Daniel Wright to close all five of his Over-the-Rhine businesses on Tuesday and test their employees. In a Facebook post announcing the closures, Wright said he felt businesses like his had “very little federal or state guidance” to direct their response.

Nearby Rhinegeist closed its Over-The-Rhine taproom the same day after learning two workers had tested positive. All other employees were tested, according to a Facebook post from the brewery’s owners, and the building was deep-cleaned in preparation for a Thursday reopening.

Antonio Young, the director of environmental health at the Cincinnati Health Department, said Groves and Wright weren’t quite correct — state and local health departments have established guidelines for restaurants with known COVID-positive staff members.

Ohio requires such businesses to isolate the infected employee, contact the local health department and shut down for deep cleaning when possible.

However, Young acknowledged that lines of communication can become overloaded and that the pandemic forces improvisation on all levels, including from health officials like him.

“I think one of the issues is this is new territory for everyone,” he said.