Just as the pandemic was emerging in March it looked like we would be seeing a wave of restaurant and bar outbreaks as infections popped up connected to public spaces across the city. But that never happened as the Bay Area shut down these businesses quickly. Now, though, as many restaurants are reopening for outdoor and/or indoor service, we're likely to get that wave of stories.
Buckeye Roadhouse in Mill Valley, which had only been open for outdoor dining since June 8, has already shut its doors for a deep-cleaning and posted an open letter on its website revealing that two staff members tested positive for the virus.
"The Buckeye Roadhouse learned that a few of its kitchen staff members have tested positive for COVID-19," the owners write. "In order to ensure the health and safety of our staff and customers, we have decided to close the restaurant for two weeks (until July 6th)."
That "few" becomes "two" by the second paragraph, and they continue saying, "While we strictly adhere to all health and safety protocols (which included vigorous cleaning throughout the day, social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, and taking every staff member’s temperature before starting work), we have decided to use these two weeks to bring in an outside company to do a thorough deep cleaning of the entire store."
The first Bay Area restaurant to temporarily close because of an employee testing positive came a week before the shelter-in-place orders were issued. That was South Park Cafe, which closed on March 10 after an employee became infected likely through a connection to an early case that also closed a San Francisco elementary school. Little did we know that every restaurant and bar in the city would be shut down within a week, or have to revert to doing only takeout.
We're entering a new phase, though, when stories like this are likely going to be disturbingly common, as we make compromises for the economy that will inevitably impact infection rates. As the New York Times wrote on Monday of this "unwieldy phase," "It is in some ways a return to the earliest days of the virus in the United States, when the coronavirus was silently brewing, and when occasions like funerals, choir practices, and birthday parties became events that led to widespread transmission."
Bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and churches are likely to places that people who aren't wearing masks at all times will spread the virus unknowingly, just through breathing and talking.
In the case of this one restaurant in Marin, we likely are not talking about transmissions to customers sitting outdoors, but anything seems possible with this virus. The two infected workers were kitchen staff and therefore not likely interacting with customers.
The 83-year-old Buckeye has changed hands a few times over the years, and lately it has been part of the portfolio of Real Restaurants, run by local restaurateurs Bill and Vanessa Higgins. The restaurant group says it operates but does not own that portfolio of spots, which includes Bix and Fog City in San Francisco, and Bar Bocce and Picco in Marin. The owners of Buckeye Roadhouse since 1999 are Peter Schumacher and executive chef Robert Price.