Someone at My Restaurant Tested COVID-19 Positive … Now What?

Transparency is the best medicine for promoting safety and confidence in your business.
Restaurant employee washing table

Restaurant reopenings provide a touchstone of normalcy in a world living with COVID-19. At the same time, foodservice operators live with an elevated risk that a customer or employee will test positive for the virus.

For businesses just starting to welcome dine-in guests again, the impact of an infection is frightening. But the possibility is real, and the sensible approach is to have a plan for transparency and following CDC best practice guidelines. Start by asking these questions:

Should I close my doors after a positive test?

It’s not required, but it may be advisable. In Massachusetts, restaurants must close for 24 hours and implement a cleaning protocol. While public health privacy laws restrict the release of information about individuals, consider the risks of not disclosing that an infection occurred:

  • Social media reports can spread unfounded rumors
  • News media coverage is a message you can’t control
  • You may destroy customer trust 

How long should I close?

Again, there are no firm rules. Unless mandated by local ordinances, 24 hours and a deep clean may be sufficient. To restore faith and give your business time to recover, consider:

  • Return to curbside pickup only for a short period
  • Re-establish social distancing and safety measures
  • Reopen with hourly sanitizing protocols

What do I tell my customers and employees?

Honesty is your best policy. Your team is like family, and you treat customers like family. While protecting the identity of individuals who test positive, you should:

What steps should you take?

Follow all local rules first. After that, any response is voluntary. The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Law Center offers guidance for responding to a COVID-19 positive employee. It also provides a Q&A on infection control practices. Your priority should be employee and guest safety:

  • Require a 14-day quarantine or a negative test for exposed employees to return
  • Implement temperature checks before entering the building
  • Suggest masks for customers upon entry
  • Require masks and gloves for all employees

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