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Bend restaurants navigate employees’ exposure to COVID-19

The Blacksmith. Victorian Cafe face challenges in bids to stay safe -- and open

BEND, Ore., (KTVZ)-- After recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, restaurants in Bend are navigating how to protect both employees and customers after some employees were exposed to or tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Blacksmith Restaurant on Greenwood Avenue has been owned and operated by Nekol Bardwell and her husband since 2013.

With COVID-19 restrictions loosening, The Blacksmith reopened just 3 1/2 weeks ago, but recently closed down again.

On Facebook, the restaurant notified its customers that an employee at another local establishment had tested positive for COVID-19, and one of their employees also works there.

To not risk the health of the employees and staff, the restaurant said they will remain closed until the test results are available.

NewsChannel 21 spoke Tuesday with Bardwell, who said she wanted to err on the side of transparency for her employees and customers. She said staying open was not worth the risk of affecting the health and well-being of her customers and employees long-term.

“It did become a little more difficult with being that open to the public, because being the first people to post something public, even though I know personally that these other places have known about it for at least a week, if not two -- it weighed on me," Bardwell said. "But risking the safety of my staff and guests is not worth my business.”

Bardwell didn’t disclose the other establishment that her employee works for.

She said though her customers have been understanding, she knows that others may have some concerns, but it's customers to make the judgement call for themselves.

“There are those people that will be afraid now," Bardwell said. "I just want you to take into consideration that we might have a case, and if we don’t, we are sanitizing and doing all that and going about our lives and reopening. There are places that are open, still doing this, so you need to take the precautions for yourself too,”

Bardwell said The Blacksmith hopes to reopen Wednesday, if they receive test results by then.

She said despite this minor setback, her customers and staff have been complying to safety measures implemented.

Another restaurant in Bend is facing backlash on social media from the public after an employee tested positive for COVID, but it failed to inform the public or shut down.

The Victorian Café on Galveston Avenue said Tuesday was their slowest day in the last three weeks.

The owners took to Facebook to clear up rumors regarding a female employee who did test positive for the virus, but was asymptomatic.

They said they believe she contracted the virus outside of work, and since testing positive, other employees of the Victorian were tested, and their results came back negative.

Owner John Nolan told NewsChannel 21 he's faced ridicule for not informing the public and closing down, but said he's been communicating with the Deschutes County Health Department throughout this process, and was assured there was no significant threat.

“So the health department who talked to her at length and talked to me at length did their investigation, and felt based on the situation determined there was no concern of contagion inside with the restaurant or customers," Nolan said. "She didn’t qualify for any of those guidelines that would have been a concern.”

Nolan said he understands there is a lot of fear around COVID-19, and businesses being back open.

He said his business has made a lot of adjustments to ensure that their employees and customers don't fall ill -- but overall, from a business standpoint, this time has been extremely difficult.

“We don’t have, or I think people think businesses, or restaurant owners are made of money or something. But it's fragile," Nolan said. "We can't afford to lose summer, when we know the fall is going to be worse and everyone will have a sniffle."

"So we are spending more money on labor, to try to make sure that everything is done right. We’ll have less income coming in, so it's just not a very good formula.”

The employee that tested positive for COVID-19 was tested about 10 days ago and has been quarantined ever since. She'll return to work once health officials say it's safe for her to be in the establishment.

Article Topic Follows: Health

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Arielle Brumfield

Arielle Brumfield is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Arielle here.


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