Businesses weigh – or close – reopening as cases increase

Businesses weigh - or close - reopening as cases increase

It’s not the reopenings companies were hoping for.

After months of closure, restaurants, shops, and even amusement parks announced their fanfare reopening. But now that states like Texas and Arizona are seeing alarming spikes in reported cases of COVID-19, companies large and small must decide whether they want to keep their doors open.

In some cases, governments interrupt their reopening plans. On Friday, Texas and Arizona closed the bars, except for takeout and reducing the restaurant’s capacity. Florida banned alcohol consumption in bars.

But many companies had already taken those steps themselves, saying that rising case numbers and shifting advice from state and local governments did not give them the confidence to stay open.

The Kolache factory, which has 27 bakeries, mainly in the Houston area, opened the dining rooms for two weeks before shutting them down on June 19 and returning to takeout and delivery. Chief Operating Officer Dawn Nielsen received mixed signals from Harris County – which required masks – and the state of Texas, which did not.

“It’s a scary time. At one point, all you have to do is take the horse’s reins and say, “I just have to make the decision myself and not wait for someone else to tell me what to do,” said Nielsen.

Lei Low Rum and Tiki Bar in Houston reopened their 60-seat dining room on June 10 with a 50% capacity. But the owner, Russell Thoede, said that customers did not always observe safety measures, such as staying put and wearing masks. On June 18, Thoede closed the bar again and the takeaway cocktail kits started again. His employees were relieved, he said.

Apple, which began reopening its stores on May 11, has closed at least 32 stores in hotspots such as Florida and Texas. Best Buy, which opened most of its 1,000 stores last week, said it is reviewing local data and tweaking virus hotspots, such as limiting the number of customers in the store.

In some cases, diseases have led to closures. Gila River Casinos closed its three locations in Phoenix on June 18 for two weeks, saying it had to rethink the activities after a guard died a week earlier.

On June 20, McCray’s Backyard Bar-BQ and Seafood in West Palm Beach, Florida, closed their doors for 10 days after learning that one of its employees may have been exposed to COVID-19. The restaurant hires a cleaning company and requires its 20 employees to be tested.

In East Lansing, Michigan, Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub reopened on June 8 to an exuberant student crowd. Now it is closed again and health officials are urging people who have visited the bar on self-quarantine. As of Friday, at least 85 customers had tested positive for COVID-19.

In some places, employees are pushing for companies to close again. In Washtenaw County, Michigan, about an hour outside of Detroit, 1,300 servers have signed a petition asking provincial officials to close restaurants until COVID-19 is no longer a public health threat. They will present the petition at a meeting on Wednesday.

“Bar culture promotes mixing and are you going to argue with a customer about wearing a mask in a tip industry?” said a local bartender, who wanted to remain anonymous because she was afraid her job would be affected.

Many companies find that the risks of reopening outweigh the rewards of the meager pedestrian traffic that comes in, said Alden Parker, a lawyer and co-chair of the hospitality group at law firm Fisher Phillips, which specializes in employment and labor law. . More than 250 lawsuits have already been filed against U.S. companies across the country through coronavirus, including employees who say they ended after they tested positive.

The legal landscape is unclear. Some companies require customers and employees to sign a waiver stating that they will not file a lawsuit if they fall ill. But whether they can be maintained varies by state and is up for debate. Employee issues are likely to be covered by occupational accident insurance. But what if a location puts up a sign that encourages masks, doesn’t enforce it and a customer gets sick? It may take a year or two for courts to resolve that, Parker said.

Advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes in the form of counseling, not requirements. The CDC suggests that companies should immediately remove sick employees or customers and clean the immediate area after 24 hours, but it says that waiting 24 hours is only “if feasible” and may be shorter.

Matt Hinton, a Control Risks partner who specializes in crisis and resilience advice, said that companies should use government restrictions as a minimum limit and develop their own criteria, as they may have a different risk tolerance than recommended by governments. But he said many customers have complained that it is difficult to know which government officials to believe.

Aaron Post, the owner of Valkyrie cocktail bar in Tulsa, Oklahoma, reopened June 5 after being closed for 13 weeks. Without government guidelines on what to do if the virus reappears, Post came up with his own statistics. He plans to close when the percentage of positive tests in his area reaches 10%; it is currently 8%.

“Without rigorous regulation or government guidance, it is a criminal offense for companies that choose to be more ethical and responsible,” said Post.

Some companies are postponing the reopening. Disneyland in Anaheim, California planned to reopen on July 17, but said this week that it will push back that indefinitely while it waits for new state regulations.

Adam Orman, who runs the Italian restaurant L’Oca d’Oro in Austin, Texas, may postpone a scheduled July 30 reopening for outdoor seating. Orman thinks the rate at which Texas has reopened is harming companies.

“No one has the chance to devote to one of the guidelines – employees, owners or guests – and get used to one reality before moving on to the next,” Orman said. Guests think they don’t have to follow the rules because they will change soon anyway, he said.

Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease expert at the University of Chicago, said companies may have to get used to being flexible.

She understands the desire for more government guidance, but said public health infrastructure is tense and rules that work well for one area may not work for another.

The most important thing for companies to do, she said, is to reduce risks to workers by demanding masks, frequent hand washing, and physical distance.

“If you don’t protect your employees, you don’t protect your company,” she said. “We can’t make it disappear. All we can do is reduce the impact. ‘

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AP business writers Michael Luurdeke in San Francisco and Joseph Pisani in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.

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