Durham, N.C. — Durham County health officials are concerned after seeing an uptick in the number of restaurant workers testing positive for coronavirus. Restaurant owners in Durham are worried about their businesses, because if one employee tests positive, it’s likely that the whole restaurant has to shut down.
“I believe everyone is starting to feel our biggest fear,” Leonardo Williams, co-owner of Zweli’s Kitchen in Oak Creek Village, said.
Zweli’s Kitchen is taking an extra step to keep their customers safe. They gather every customer’s contact information before they order so they can be informed as quickly as possible if there is a positive case.
Many Durham restaurant owners are already barely getting by during the economic fallout from the pandemic. Now, they have to worry about the safety of their staff as more are testing positive as COVID-19 spreads.
“We’re now starting to see some restaurant workers who are of the Black or African-American community,” Rodney Jenkins, Durham County health director, said. “Right at 54% of our cases for the month of August are involved in restaurants.”
Many local restaurant owners aren’t surprised by the increase but are concerned for their staff.
“The majority of our staff is African-American,” Williams said. “It’s aligned with our biggest fear because African-Americans are being affected the most.”
Those who enjoy eating out said while the uptick in cases is concerning, it comes with the territory.
Rashida Myrie said the increase in cases among restaurant workers would not stop her from going out to eat.
“The more that we come in contact with people, with just from what I know about COVID, I think it’s a chance that people will get sick,” Myrie said. “That’s just part of the risk.
Elizabeth Turnbull, owner of the restaurant Copa on West Main Street in downtown Durham, said that test results need to come in faster for those in the public service industry.
“It’s absolutely crucial that restaurant workers and anyone in forward public-facing jobs like salon or retail workers have a way that they can walk in, get an accurate same-day test,” said Elizabeth Turnbull, owner of Copa.
Williams said some test results have been taking more than seven days — which is just too long for those working in a restaurant.
“Earliest we’ve gotten one back is five days,” Williams said, “so if we could get rapid testing done, we could definitely ensure that safety measures of been taken and being effective.”
While all restaurants in Durham have strict safety measures in place, it’s the fear of having to close up shop that’s at the forefront of many owners’ minds.
“We can’t afford just to close down every time someone might sneeze or have a cough,” Turnbull said, “but we also want to do the right thing.”