Several New York City restaurants close as Covid cases rise

Diners in New York City have seen their social media feeds inundated in recent days with restaurant after restaurant ads that they were temporarily closing because staff members tested positive for Covid-19 or were exposed to the virus.

“I feel like it happened in three days,” said Cat Alexander, who closed her restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Pheasant on Wednesday after an employee received a positive test result. It is waiting for its remaining 22 employees to test negative before reopening.

At least a dozen restaurants and bars temporarily closed their doors this week, as the number of reported new Covid cases in New York rose to an average of 3,554 per day in New York, a 135% increase compared to the average of two weeks ago. , according to a New York Times database.

Restaurant owners said the cases reported so far have been mild, but they expected the number of closures to increase as companies try to protect employees and customers from the infection. Restaurants include Contento in Harlem, Temperance Wine Bar in the West Village and several in Brooklyn: Otway in Clinton Hill, LaLou in Prospect Heights, Winona’s in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Di An Di in Greenpoint.

“It was pretty amazing and shocking to me the rate of spread in such a safe environment,” said Jamie Erickson, owner of Poppy’s, a cafe in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Its staff of 30 are vaccinated and still masked at work, but the coffee shop steward’s kitchen in Red Hook closed over the weekend after Thanksgiving due to a Covid outbreak.

Nationwide, coronavirus cases have caused similar shutdowns as the Delta and Omicron variants progress. There have been restaurant closures in Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia. New Mexico, Oregon, Hawaii and other states.

New York City shutdowns, like those currently occurring in several Broadway shows, come in the midst of the holiday season, normally one of the busiest times of the year for these businesses.

Just as they were over the summer, when the Delta variant became the most predominant strain of the coronavirus in the United States, restaurateurs were once again forced to reassess their safety protocols and feel inadequate. supported by local and state governments.

New York City has some of the most stringent vaccine requirements in the country, requiring workers and diners inside to provide proof of vaccination. Governor Kathy Hochul on Monday ordered all indoor businesses in the state to require customers to wear masks, unless the companies have protocols to require proof of vaccination.

Many restaurants go above and beyond official requirements – in Pheasant, all staff are not only fully vaccinated (several employees have received reminders), but must also wear masks. Ms Alexander hopes to reopen Thursday night, but she is at the mercy of how quickly the testing centers deliver results. Many test centers experience long queues and delays.

As the number of Covid cases increases, the question for many restaurateurs is how to manage their exposure while keeping their businesses afloat.

On Wednesday, an employee of Di An Di, a Vietnamese restaurant in Greenpoint, tested positive for the virus. Dennis Ngo, an owner, said he wants to reopen as soon as workers receive a negative result from a PCR test or two consecutive rapid tests. He said some of the nearby testing centers he visited on Wednesday were running out of rapid tests.

“I am very surprised,” Mr. Ngo said. “I thought we got over that test bump.”

He said that even if his 30 employees were vaccinated and no case of Covid was likely to put them in hospital, they would lose income at a crucial time to buy gifts and pay bills. The restaurant could also lose significant revenue due to the big party dinners.

Mr Ngo plans to reintroduce delivery and take-out, in case he has to shut down restaurants inside again. “I foolishly thought we got past that,” he said.

Brent Young, who closed his Cozy Royale restaurant in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Wednesday, said he had received “no direction” from city and state officials on what to do. to do when an employee tested positive for Covid.

“Even the CDC website says if you don’t have any symptoms, just go on with your life as usual,” he said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “So I think we’re going beyond that recommendation by requiring everyone to self-isolate and take a test.”

The sudden surge in the number of coronaviruses in the city is likely due to the Delta variant and the growing number of gatherings inside for the holidays, said Dr Larry Brilliant, a California-based epidemiologist who was part of the effort to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. The Omicron variant is still fairly new, he said, but it is the most transmissible of all existing variants.

The northeast, particularly New York City, has been a popular entry point for the virus and its variants due to tourism, said Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard University. “Where New York is heading is where we expect the rest of the country to be,” he said.

The loss of income due to the closure just before Christmas is particularly significant in many restaurants. Because an employee tested positive on Tuesday, Contento in Harlem will be closed at least until Saturday. This resulted in the cancellation of a large private event and the absence of one of the most lucrative weeks of the year, said Yannick Benjamin, sommelier at Contento. (This week, the restaurant was ranked # 4 on New York Times reviewer Pete Wells’ list of the city’s 10 best new restaurants of the year.)

Mr Benjamin said the restaurant keeps Covid testing handy for employees; all are vaccinated and many have received a booster.

“I can’t imagine how much more rigid we can be” with employees, he said. It is difficult to control their actions when much of the city is open for business. No matter how diligent people are, he said, “things do happen.”

At Clinton Hill Otway Cafe there are two separate day and night shifts so if someone on one team is positive the other team can still work and a full day of work is not lost. On Tuesday, an employee said she was exposed to Covid-19, so owner Samantha Safer shut down the dinner service the following evening. She estimated that she had lost $ 4,000 to $ 8,000 that night alone.

What particularly scares him is that, as confident as his employees are, some guests do not show the same courtesy. She said a waiter overheard three diners inside “talking about how they might have been exposed to Covid.”

Ms. Safer is taking no chances on New Years Eve, usually the restaurant’s most lucrative night out. In addition to showing their proof of vaccination, she said, diners will need to produce a negative result on a recent test.

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Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement