Its doors have been open just four months, but on Tuesday night, Bear & Joey restaurant on Cook Street was preparing to get the kind of scouring reserved for eateries with years and thousands of meals under their belts.
The restaurant opted to shut its doors in Abstract’s Black and White building at the corner of Cook and Meares streets for two weeks and undertake a deep cleaning after one of its staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
“We need this financial hit like we need a hole in the head, but at the end of the day, it’s something we are not ‘half-in’ on — it’s something serious and needs to be done,” said owner Peter Wood.
Closing the doors was Wood’s idea, as he was told by the health authority there is a very low risk and no need to shut the restaurant.
“It’s something we didn’t have to do, but we didn’t feel at all comfortable in having any of our staff’s health or that of our guests put at risk,” said Wood. “So we decided to put everything on hold and we will wait 14 days for all the test results to come back.”
Wood said the results have started to come in and so far, all other staff members have tested negative.
The one affected staff member was immediately taken off the working roster after coming into contact with a COVID case — not at the restaurant — and told to get tested and self-isolate.
That test came back positive, though the staff member is reportedly not feeling any ill effects.
After the test result came back last Thursday, Wood decided the best course of action was to shut down for two weeks and allow all of his staff to get tested and self-isolate.
Wood said he was a little surprised that neither Island Health nor WorkSafeBC required him to close the restaurant.
“We still feel the most responsible thing was for everyone to self-isolate for 14 days, and now we have this professional cleaner coming in to do a COVID-specific procedure, a deep clean of the whole restaurant,” he said. “It’s precautionary, but we have a responsibility to the public that when they come back, they are 100 per cent confident their safety is guaranteed.”
According to Island Health, businesses are not required to close if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, or is deemed a close contact, unless specifically directed to do so by public health authorities.
If there is a confirmed exposure at a business, Island Health’s environmental health officers review the business’s COVID-19 safety plan to ensure it is sufficient.
If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, Island Health says, the public health team will follow up to identify potential close contacts of the COVID-positive individual. Close-contact exposure means face-to-face contact for an extended period of time with a person who is infectious.
The public health team then reaches out to close contacts and asks them about their symptoms. Those with symptoms are instructed to seek testing and must self-isolate for 14 days, while contacts without symptoms must self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms.
Island Health has not ordered any businesses to close as a result of an employee being identified as having COVID or being a close contact.
On Tuesday, there were no public-exposure notices on Island Health’s website and only two active COVID cases on southern Vancouver Island.
Wood said while it’s a very stressful time for the business, it has been an opportunity for his staff and the public to see how they deal with crises.
“It shows we will not be taking any risks when it comes to this sort of thing,” he said.
Wood said the target date for reopening is Oct. 5, 14 days from the last time the affected staff member was in the restaurant.
He said the experiment of opening a restaurant in the midst of a pandemic has turned out to be positive.
Though it’s only operating at about 55 per cent capacity, Wood said they’ve had excellent response from the public and it’s been a good chance to test their systems without being slammed.
“It’s been a good exercise to find our feet,” he said.