restaurant employee washing table

Someone at My Restaurant Tested COVID-19 Positive ... Now What?

Transparency is the best medicine for promoting safety and confidence in your business.

Restaurant reopenings provide a touchstone of normalcy in a world living with COVID-19. At the same time, foodservice operators live with an elevated risk that a customer or employee will test positive for the virus.

For businesses just starting to welcome dine-in guests again, the impact of an infection is frightening. But the possibility is real, and the sensible approach is to have a plan for transparency that follows Public Health Canada best practice guidelines. Start by asking these questions:

Should I close my doors after a positive test?

It’s not required, but it may be advisable. In Edmonton, restaurants are closing as a precaution following exposure. In this pandemic emergency, the rules can change quickly, so look to your Public Health Office and authorities in your province. While public health privacy laws restrict the release of information about individuals, consider the risks of not disclosing that an infection occurred:

  • Social media reports can spread unfounded rumours
  • News media coverage is a message you can’t control
  • You may destroy customer trust 

How long should I close?

Again, there are no firm rules. Unless mandated by local ordinances, 24 hours and a deep clean may be sufficient. To restore faith and give your business time to recover, consider:

  • Return to curbside pickup only for a short period
  • Re-establish social distancing and safety measures
  • Reopen with hourly sanitizing protocols

What do I tell my customers and employees?

Honesty is your best policy. Your team is like family, and you treat customers like family. While protecting the identity of individuals who test positive, you should:

  • Confirm you have alerted public health authorities
  • Explain whether the person handled food or was in contact with others
  • Tell when the infected person was last in the restaurant

What steps should you take?

Follow all local rules first. After that, any response is voluntary. A Restaurants Canada Q&A section and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offer plenty of guidance on infection control. As always, your priority should be employee and guest safety:

  • Consult your provincial public health authority if an employee tests positive, so they can track contacts and issue directives
  • Management should ensure the employee does not return to work, pending a 14-day quarantine or a negative test
  • Implement temperature checks before entering the building
  • Make masks available for customers upon entry (some regions require them)
  • Require masks and gloves for all employees