The Brown Jug, a popular student restaurant and bar on South University Avenue, has reported at least six positive COVID-19 cases among staff since late August.
A server, who requested to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation from their employer, told The Daily six employees tested positive for COVID-19 in the past month. Both the server and the restaurant’s owner, Perry Porikos, confirmed these cases. The entire staff was then tested for COVID-19 — those tests came back negative.
The Brown Jug then shut down from Aug. 30 to Sept. 8 after a cluster of cases emerged among employees on Aug. 28, according to Porikos. He said he immediately contacted the Washtenaw County Department of Health and shut down the restaurant for deep cleaning on Aug. 30. He also told all employees who tested positive to quarantine, following health department protocol.
“I decided for the benefit of everybody to shut it down,” Porikos said. “You know, informed the health department right away. They informed me that, listen, legally, (you don’t have to) shut down.”
However, the server said the restaurant did not close while the employees were awaiting results from their tests between Aug. 20 and Aug. 30.
“The problem is, with this testing … when (management) says ‘OK, everyone has to get tested,’ you don’t close, everyone still comes into work, even if they’re waiting on test results,” the server said.
Nate, a bar manager who asked to only use his first name for privacy concerns, said he was the first to get a positive result back for COVID-19 on Aug. 25 after going in for a test four days earlier. He said he felt sick the day before and took off from work, and then got tested.
“The earliest (positive case) was actually mine,” Nate said. “I was like, ‘I’m not gonna come in for a shift, I don’t feel right, I felt weird.’ So I actually didn’t come in. I tested positive on the 21. I wasn’t even in contact with anybody. I got it from an outside person.”
Nate said another employee later tested positive who, days earlier, had tested negative. The employee had worked nearly every shift in between the test days, so the entire staff got tested again, Nate said. From that group, four more came back positive.
“One of the workers was asymptomatic the whole time, but that person was working almost every shift,” Nate said. “Everyone got scheduled to get tested, and the second person that came back positive, we were like, well, the rest of you are probably going to test positive as well. It was only five of us altogether that got it, and that’s when we shut everything down.”
Nate said he believes The Brown Jug is doing everything it can to protect its staff and patrons from COVID-19.
“We’ve been cleaning, self-quarantining, getting checked,” Nate said. “I mean, there’s not much more we can do. Everything is sanitized after touching everything, capacity is limited. We had a line outside the other day and it was aimed away from our patio. And we can only control people as much as we can control people.”
The server said all employees were told to wear masks at all times and usually left tables open to maintain social distancing and wiped down menus and tabletops with a bleach solution.
However, the server said employees did not always follow these precautions. On weekend nights and during other peak hours, employees did not have time to clean menus or enforce social-distancing limits, they said.
“When we have busy nights, there’s no social distancing happening,” the server said. “Everyone’s at every table, there’s a ridiculous amount of people crowded around the bar and that makes it hard as a server, because I walk to the outside patio.”
Around Aug. 28, the entire staff got re-tested but continued to come into work before they received results, the server said.
“We’re like, ‘We’ll get tested, but shouldn’t we not come in until we have those negative test results?’” the server said. “I talked to my manager about being uncomfortable with coming in with everyone waiting on test results, especially because my roommate is immunocompromised and spreading it to my apartment could really potentially be very bad.”
The server said after hearing that five employees tested positive, they sent a message in the group chat saying they were uncomfortable returning to work that night. The server said their manager let them stay home, but operations continued.
“I was uncomfortable returning to work until proper precautions were being followed, until we change our systems for protecting employee health,” the server said. “I believe everyone should need a negative result before they come into work if they’ve been exposed.”
The server said they were removed from the group chat after sending those messages, saying they believed management was upset that they urged the restaurant to close after the cluster was discovered.
“Working at a restaurant or bar, it has its risks, and you do consent to that working there,” the server said. “But this goes beyond normal risks and I’m legitimately just waiting to get (COVID-19) at this point.”
In June, students crowded many bars and restaurants as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lifted restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining. LSA senior Gillian Graham told The Daily she was turned away from The Brown Jug for not wearing a mask this summer, but noticed that bars had long lines and fairly crowded dining rooms. Porikos confirmed that the restaurant has denied customers entry if they are not wearing a mask.
Porikos said he operates the restaurant at about 45% capacity. Porikos said he also placed plexiglass between the booths to further limit contact between patrons, but said it is difficult to enforce social distancing in the line outside the restaurant.
“We have little marks down that are six feet away from each other, and you go over there and you tell (people waiting in line), ‘Would you please stay on the blue X’s?’ but then you’re gonna hear a little complaint about, ‘Oh, I live with her, I live with him, altogether,’ and I say, ‘Yeah, but I’m not gonna allow you to come in,’” Porikos said.
Art & Design sophomore Rachel Grabow ate dinner at The Brown Jug on Aug. 29 and said she was surprised at how crowded the restaurant was.
“Every single table was taken and there were actually people on the sidewalk next to it that were waiting,” Grabow said. “Everyone walking by had masks, and the servers had masks, it was just very busy.”
Grabow said she was scared by the rumors of an outbreak but said she would return if she knew all employees tested negative and cleaned the restaurant.
“I definitely was kinda freaked out when I heard those rumors, and wasn’t jumping to go back,” Grabow said. “But right now, I feel like I would go back if they were confirmed (negative) and shut down for cleaning … But I would definitely stay outside, because I’m trying not to go inside places.”
Daily Staff Reporter Julia Rubin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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