Local restaurant owners draw up contingency plans as COVID-19 cases rise

Hays

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — Hays County continues to see a spike in COVID-19 cases, reporting nearly 200 cases just this weekend. Many of those cases are hitting home for local restaurants, with some announcing closures after employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

“The last couple weeks, things in San Marcos have exploded,” says Harlan Scott, co-owner of Industry restaurant in San Marcos.

“It’s a nerve-wracking situation. It’s very scary,” says Arash Saberi, who owns Railroad Bar & Grill in San Marcos.

They have been watching colleagues across the city shut down their shops after employees test positive for COVID-19.

“We encourage our employees to practice good behavior. If they’re going out, wear a face mask. Try to be responsible and not endanger all of us,” Saberi says.

Both he and Scott have COVID-19 plans that include making sure employees who feel sick stay home. That’s meant both have been working short-staffed for weeks.

“We had a staff meeting on Tuesday and reminded them, I’m like ‘Hey, don’t be the reason why we have to close this restaurant…’ If you even have an inkling that you might’ve been around someone with COVID, don’t come in,” Scott says.

But there’s only so much the restaurant owners say they can do– employees have the right to go where they want and socialize with whomever they want.

If someone tests positive, they make sure those who worked with them get tested, too.

“We recently had seven staff members tested last week and didn’t work. They all came back negative,” Scott says.

But there are no rules requiring restaurants to shut down if someone comes down with the virus, and the business owners say they don’t think it’s necessary to do so with every case.

At Railyard Bar & Grill in San Marcos, customers are asked to sanitize their hands upon entry.

“If one of my staff catches COVID from her boyfriend eight days ago and I choose to have her stay home and have all the staff that worked with her get tested and they all come back negative, I’ll continue to operate and I’m very transparent about that,” Scott says.

Scott points to the fact that big box stores and grocery chains not shutting down after their employees test positive.

“That’s what you’re asking businesses to do and that’s a little unfair,” he says.

Both recognize there is a moment where shutting down would become the best thing to do.

“Closing every week is untenable,” Scott says. “But if I find myself in a situation where I can’t guarantee that the staff working in this building don’t have it because I wasn’t able to get them tested, then I’ll close my doors.”

“If we find out somebody here who is currently infected, we will absolutely shut down, stay shut down, do a super deep clean, give it a few days and then open back up to the public,” Saberi says.

But as they employ safety measures to keep COVID-19 at bay, like requiring employees to wear masks and frequently clean surfaces, they ask customers to do their part, too: Stay away if they have symptoms.

“We’re trying so hard to create a space for our employees and for the community. This is not about money, this is not about greed, it’s about survival,” Scott says.

“Be good to us, we’re trying to be good to you,” Saberi says.

KXAN asked the Hays County Local Health department if restaurants are becoming hot-spots for COVID-19.

They told us they will not be releasing that data, saying:

Hays County will not be releasing any data that identifies particular business types or industries where individuals have tested positive for COVID-19. We understand the basis for questions regarding trends that point toward potential clusters or hot spots. However, we do not believe providing this type of information will assist with policy decisions or messaging. In fact, it could be harmful to businesses that are already struggling and trying to get back on their feet.

Our health department strongly urges all Hays County residents to continue doing those things that helped us begin to slow the spread of the virus throughout April and May: frequently hand washing with soap and water, wearing masks or face coverings when out and about, and staying at least six-feet apart from others when in public places. By prioritizing those simple yet effective measures, Hays County residents can help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Hays County Local Health Department

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