BOONE — As local and statewide COVID-19 cases have risen more sharply in recent weeks, several Watauga County businesses have announced decisions to temporarily close as staff members have tested positive.
The restaurants have indicated via social media posts that the decisions to close have been made by owners, and AppHealthCare representatives say they “typically” would not order a business to close.
“We do not typically require the restaurant to close, but ask the business to work with us to ensure control measures we put into place are supported,” said Melissa Bracey, spokesperson for AppHealthCare, the regional public health department.
Blowing Rock Market was among the first in a string of closure announcements by area businesses, posting on Facebook June 19 that one of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19, and adding that the employee had not worked in several days.
“We have closed the Market and all employees are in the process of being tested,” the business said. “We will have to wait for test results and until they come back we do not anticipate being able to operate.”
Facebook users commented on the post to thank the business for being transparent. The market commented a week later that all other employee tests were negative, and that the store was reopening on a limited basis.
On June 28, the TApp Room in Boone posted that it had a staff member who tested positive.
“TApp has made the obvious decision to shut it down, get tests done for all of our staff and then reassess,” the post stated. “It is our moral imperative to protect our community. All of our actions up to this point, and moving forward, place the safety of Boone as the highest priority for our bar. We will be working in partnership with the Watauga Health Department on our action plan for reopening. We believe the best course of action involves transparency, honesty and precaution.”
The post was followed on June 29 by a similar announcement from Ransom Pub, which indicated it was following the TApp Room’s lead.
“We’ve decided to follow the amazing leadership and example set by The TApp Room and pause operations until further notice,” Ransom stated on its Facebook page. “We found out this morning that one of our employees tested positive for Covid-19. The individual has not been in the building in 10 days and did not show symptoms until 72 hours after their last shift while at home. Out of an abundance of caution for our staff and community we will close until we can make certain that our establishment is a safe place for everyone.”
On July 1, Bistro Roca in Blowing Rock announced it would close as well.
“To protect our employees, our patrons and our community, Bistro Roca closed Wednesday, July 1, 2020 due to a staff member testing positive for Covid-19,” its Facebook post stated. “The restaurant is being thoroughly cleaned and sanitized while each member gets tested. Our coronavirus safeguards, which include reduced seating, requiring staff members to get their temperature checked prior to their shift, and mandatory mask wearing, will continue to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus when we reopen.”
Health department officials say their guidance and businesses’ decisions depend in part on the level of exposure to employees. Close contacts are defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as anyone who has spent 15 minutes or more within six feet or less of a known positive case.
“When someone tests positive, we conduct a case investigation to determine individuals who may have had a close contact exposure. These most often occur in home or congregate living environments, but may also occur in workplaces,” Bracey said. “Part of the case investigation is to determine if an individual who has a known positive result may have been in close proximity to others. We would then engage with that business/agency to provide support and guidance on a case-by-case basis.”
Individuals who have had a known exposure to a positive case are required to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of their symptoms, Bracey said.
“Based on the interaction that a person had in a restaurant, we would offer guidance and recommendations,” she said. “There are times when exposures may lead to a business owner’s decision to voluntarily close. If a restaurant decides to temporarily close out of caution or because they believe that is the best course of action for their circumstances, we support that decision.”
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce praised the actions by local businesses to be transparent, and in a July 1 video report, President and CEO David Jackson said the issue had raised a number of questions in recent days. He said it was important for a business to be transparent but also important that community members not react to rumors.
“The health department, AppHealthCare, is a resource for you businesses out there that need to get these questions answered,” Jackson said. “Don’t feel you have to tiptoe around it ... (ask) questions if you have them so they can help give you the proper guidance to make sure that you’re running your business safely and responsibly, you are being helpful to your employees if they have a situation that requires some attention and that you are communicating effectively with your customers.”
Bracey said the health department has also been fielding concerns about local businesses that some feel might not be adhering to COVID-19 orders and guidelines.
“Our COVID-19 call line is still taking calls from the public to answer questions,” she said. “If we have repeated concerns, we may reach out to a business to make sure they have up-to-date information to help decrease risk to their employees and patrons.”
Law enforcement are responsible for enforcing the state executive order requirements, she noted.
To reach AppHealthCare’s COVID-19 call center, dial (828) 795-1970.