Noting that a percentage of the territory’s COVID-19 cases stem from the foodservice industry, National Epidemiologist, Harmony Brewley is urging all restaurant owners and their staff to operate in full compliance with local COVID-19 protocols.
Brewley made the appeal during a recent online forum with various restaurant owners across the territory as they prepare for the reopening of in-dining services.
She said: “We are definitely cautioning restaurants and the staff to be very diligent in who they interact with and how they interact with persons because we have linked several of our cases to bars, bartenders, waitresses and so forth [and] sometimes we get very lax when we’re speaking to our coworkers and colleagues.”
“We feel that we know them. They don’t look sick so, therefore, we take off our masks to interact with them. And it has led them to primary contacts coming from cases that were working in restaurants or in bars. So you do have to keep up the measures and you do have to encourage your employees to sustain the measures even amongst themselves,” Brewley further said.
Three percent of cases linked to restaurants
Brewley also revealed that of the total 69 positive cases that existed in the territory prior to the latest recorded patients, three percent were directly linked to restaurants.
Of that percentage, Brewley said a number of those persons exhibited symptoms of the virus.
“Now three percent does not seem like a lot. However, if they’re interacting with staff and they interacted in passing with other customers, it means then that those persons then become primary contacts, which means that those persons have been exposed and would take home the said virus to their families, which could then potentially make them secondary contacts,” Brewley she reasoned.
She added: “The problem isn’t so much that the cases were positive, it really comes down to whether or not they were symptomatic or even pre-symptomatic while visiting the restaurants. And in this case, they were symptomatic which means that the risk of your staff contracting COVID-19 increases exponentially.”
Penalties to be enforced
Meanwhile, Chief Environmental Health Officer Lionel Michael said his department will ensure businesses adhere to the existing COVID-19 protocols.
He said his department in collaboration with the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force will have an army of workers going around to monitor the actions of both employees and customers.
If persons or businesses are caught in breach of the protocols, Michael said they will be ticketed.
According to Public Health (COVID-19 Control & Suppression Measures) (No. 8) Order, 2020, an individual found in breach for the first time will be required to pay a fine of $100 and to attend mandatory training sessions. For an individual’s second offence, the fine will increase to $200.
In contrast, businesses found in breach of the COVID-19 protocols for their first offence will be required to pay a fine of $1,000 and will be issued a notice of temporary closure, which will persist until the owner attends a training session and makes the necessary corrections.
A second breach by a business will result in a $2,000 fine along with an order of immediate closure of the establishment. The business will also have its Environmental Health Certificate revoked.
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