3 Palm Desert businesses close for cleaning after employees contract COVID-19


One restaurant and two retailers at the Westfield Palm Desert mall have temporarily closed to undergo deep cleaning after employees tested positive for the coronavirus, according to mall officials.

The businesses are Vans, M. Ruiz Jewelers and Stuft Pizza, according to Westfield spokesperson Zach Eichman.

According to reports, mall officials were notified of the positive COVID-19 test results on June 13, according to a June 17 letter from Nino Rodriguez, Westfield Palm Desert’s vice president of shopping center management. The mall had just reopened on May 29 for indoor services.


“The tenants have been directed to consult the local public health authority and have advised us that their premises have undergone a thorough cleaning process,” Rodriguez said.

The three businesses are among several that have had employees test positive as more establishments reopen in Riverside County. Officials reported a spike in cases and hospitalizations over the last two weeks, causing the county to land on a watch list for the California Department of Public Health.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 14,431 confirmed cases in Riverside County — 631 more than the previous day.

When an employee tests positive for the novel virus, the business is not legally required to close, said county spokeswoman Brooke Federico. The Palm Desert businesses decided on their own to temporarily close.

“I think there are a lot of businesses that have developed their protocols on how they will respond,” she said. “That may or may not include closing, or it may include cleaning during off hours or non-operational hours.”

Federico said health officials recommend employers clean the areas where the infected person was working and to take other precautions to ensure safety for their customers and employees.

Although the California Department of Public Health has issued lengthy guidelines on cleaning and safety procedures for businesses to reopen, there hasn’t been much guidance on what to do if someone contracts the coronavirus.


“It’s difficult to navigate because some of the guidelines are not very specific, more so on what happens when you do have a case, there’s a little bit of flexibility there on how you want to handle it,” said John Bertram, owner of Stuft Pizza.

“The reality is that I would imagine almost every business is going to have to deal with this within the next year, or six months or however long this lasts,” he added.

Bertram called the local health department when he received news that one of his employees had tested positive for the coronavirus to seek direction on how to handle the situation.

“You’re not forced to close,” he said. “There’s other restaurants that have had cases that we know of and they’ve chose not to close, which I think for us, we just felt like we needed to have real data in front of us and real information to understand how to proceed, so that was our biggest decision on why we [closed] the dining side.

“We have big restaurants, there’s a lot of employees, there’s a lot of customers and we didn’t want to create a big problem for the community.”

Bertram closed the restaurant on June 13 to be deep cleaned by a third-party company and didn’t reopen until Monday, when his other employees had received negative test results. He took the results as a sign that the restaurant’s safety protocols were working.

“We now have some confidence that the masks and all the protocols and actions that we’re taking are actually working,” he said.

Although M. Ruiz Jewelers had been closed since late March following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lockdown order, owner Karen Ruiz said that she thought it was necessary to close again when she discovered on June 9 that one of her employees had contracted the virus.

“I didn’t feel that we had a choice,” Ruiz said about temporarily closing the 40-year-old family business that has been at the Palm Desert mall for one year. “I didn’t feel like it was a difficult decision. I thought that it was imperative. I mean I didn’t want to, who wants to? … But I don’t regret it.”

Ruiz asked her small team — the one employee who tested positive, her husband and son — to get tested. When the results came back negative, she reopened a week later after having the store deep cleaned, she said.

“You just don’t know,” Ruiz said. “It’s just a scary thing for everybody until you know for sure you’re not a carrier.”

Ruiz said that she and her employees will continue to sanitize regularly, require the use face coverings and limit a customer’s ability to touch the merchandise.

A representative for the Vans store could not be reached for comment.

Federico, the county spokeswoman, said that because the virus is still present, businesses should continue to take necessary precautions, such as practicing social distancing between customers, wearing face coverings and sanitizing regularly.

“There is community spread of the disease throughout all of Riverside County and all of Southern California, and so many businesses do have employees with confirmed cases,” she said. “We really encourage residents to support the businesses that are taking these safety precautions to protect their employees because that also means they are concerned about protecting their customers.”