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Orange County leaves it up to restaurants to alert customers about coronavirus cases

Restaurants and other businesses in Orange County are not required to tell customers about coronavirus cases among staff.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

At least half a dozen restaurants in Orange County temporarily closed for cleaning after announcing an employee had tested positive for the coronavirus or had come into contact with someone exposed to COVID-19.

The additional closures follow similar plans to deep clean and sanitize spaces after restaurant employees at other locations became infected with COVID-19.

The county, which reported more than 1,000 coronavirus cases and three new deaths Tuesday, is one of more than two dozen instructed by the state to temporarily suspend indoor operations at businesses, including restaurants, after a surge in infections.

That list includes Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. However, unlike the public health departments in those counties, which identify restaurants and businesses with a cluster of three or more coronavirus infections, the Orange County Health Care Agency does not share that information with the public, and officials say they have no immediate plans to do so.

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Restaurants are required to follow guidelines from Orange County’s health department about safety protocols to guard against the virus and must contact health officials if an employee tests positive. But in the absence of a public database, it’s up to individual restaurants to inform customers about positive tests among staff members.

Public health experts say wearing a mask can prevent the spread of COVID-19, but in Orange County many are still skeptical.

In light of that, more than 1,000 people have signed a petition requesting the county to publish a list of restaurants that have closed amid coronavirus concerns as overall cases in the county near 19,000.

“As a consumer, I should decide if I want to patronize an establishment that had a COVID exposure or not. The same way as Health Grades are published, COVID exposure should be published,” the petition reads.

Though not currently required, any restaurant or business can independently alert customers to potential exposure. At least half a dozen eateries have reported infections on social media in recent weeks.

Augustino’s Italian Restaurant in Garden Grove, for instance, announced on Facebook that it was closing July 1 after a staff member may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus. The restaurant posted an update five days later saying it would reopen after all staff members tested negative.

PokeBowl in Ladera Ranch issued a similar message after a staff member came into contact with someone with known exposure.

Golden Road Brewery in Huntington Beach, which reopened Wednesday morning, posted a notice on Facebook last week announcing its temporary closure after a staff member tested positive. Adolfo’s in Laguna Beach posted a similar message last week after its owner tested positive for the virus, and 25 Degrees in Huntington Beach issued a message after a staff member tested positive.

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Off the Hook in Los Alamitos voluntarily closed June 30 after testing all 110 employees and learning that three tested positive. The restaurant has since reopened.

How health departments enforce safety protocols at restaurants is still shifting. In Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors passed a motion Tuesday directing the public health department to enact a policy to impose fines or revoke permits at restaurants that are not in compliance with COVID-19 health orders. Orange County has not implemented such a rule.


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