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As COVID-19 Surges in LA, Prominent Restaurants Face Positive Tests Among Staff

In the past week, many prominent Los Angeles restaurants have publicly announced temporary closures as a result of positive COVID-19 tests among staff

An exterior of a new bakery cafe with a tree sitting in the middle.
Clark Street Bread reopens today after a positive test
Wonho Frank Lee

Adaptation is the name of the game for Southern California restaurants these days, having moved through various stages of openings, closing, curfews, and lockdowns, and on to the current state-mandated shutdown of all on-site outdoor dining. COVID-19 cases are still surging to all-new daily records, with officials estimating that at least one in every 100 people in LA County is currently infected. That unchecked community spread has since made its way into the kitchens and takeout areas of local restaurants, with several prominent spots announcing positive cases and immediate temporary closures just in the past few days.

Anyone attuned to their social media feeds over the past week have likely seen the repetition of closure notices from at least a few local restaurants. Apple Pan, the historic West LA burger spot, is among the largest to publicly announce a voluntary shutdown and staff-wide testing procedure, saying they would reopen Tuesday, December 15 after taking the weekend to regroup.

So too has Courage Bagels, the new takeaway bagel shop in Virgil Village, which announced a closure several days ago after an asymptomatic worker returned a positive result. Courage plans to reopen this coming weekend. Clark Street Bread, in Historic Filipinotown, reopened this morning after closing last week due to a positive test, while Gjusta in Venice remains closed following multiple positives. This is the second time this year that Gjusta has closed as a result of staff coronavirus testing.

A number of popular pizza spots have also taken time to close following a positive test among staff. Hail Mary in Atwater Village is reopening on Wednesday, December 16 after a staff member tested positive — and despite being among the most vocal, and earliest, restaurants to take on advanced coronavirus protocols due to rising concerns. Ronan on Melrose has also announced a positive test and subsequent temporary closure, saying “we will reopen when we are confident that we are all COVID free and can operate safely.” The post also adds a call for federal financial intervention, saying:

There is money from the Cares Act that still needs to be distributed and we are an industry desperately in need of some relief. Many restaurants, ones that you love, who will be faced with this situation simply won’t be able to reopen.

Cosa Buona in Echo Park reported a positive test and closure as well, and will be reopening tomorrow. Superfine has similarly received a positive test among staff, and is closed until further notice, while Milo SRO in Santa Monica is also closed following a positive COVID-19 test from an unnamed number of staff members.

The LA County Department of Public Health requires notification for three or more positive cases amongst staff; the publicly-available list reports five cases for Milo SRO. The database, which has been accumulating since the spring, also shows outbreaks this year at busy restaurants like Langer’s Deli — which reopened on December 4 after 11 workers contracted COVID-19 — and In-N-Out Burger in Sherman Oaks, and multiple locations of fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Jersey Mike’s across the county.

The list also compiles non-restaurant outbreaks, including at grocery and big box stores and at distribution facilities, which make up a much larger number of outbreaks countywide. Last week, a Superior Court judge called the closure of outdoor dining at restaurants by public officials “arbitrary,” and demanded to see more data on the link between case rates and restaurants before allowing the county-wide ban of on-site dining to continue. The state’s own regional closure of on-site dining, which supersedes the county order, lasts until at least December 28.

Sadly, outbreaks among staff are nothing new during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Since the spring, workplaces like Bub & Grandma’s and All Day Baby have closed as a result of one or more positive tests, adding yet another layer of uncertainty, stress, financial burden, and fear in a year already so costly for restaurants and workers.

Intensive care unit bed capacity is currently below five percent in the Southern California region, while nationally the country mourns the unfathomable loss of 300,000 lives. LA County’s massive restaurant workforce is largely and proudly Latino, though Latino communities are more than twice as likely to contract the coronavirus compared to white residents.

Faced with a future that does not include a social safety net, rent forgiveness, or any large-scale federal bailout, those in the industry are left to navigate these moments mostly alone, toggling between public disclosure on Instagram and the quiet worries about having to close forever, get furloughed, and end up — at the least — with staggering amounts of debt. As the LA Times noted over the weekend, the lack of a coordinated governmental response for saving the hospitality industry, particularly small, neighborhood restaurants, is a “national disgrace.”

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