The Washtenaw County Health Department alerted the public Monday afternoon to a possibility of exposure at two Ann Arbor restaurants, Brown Jug on S. University Ave. and Chapala Mexican Restaurant on N. Main St. Anyone who was at Brown Jug from Oct. 1-3 and Oct. 6 and Chapala on Oct. 1 should quarantine and monitor for symptoms.
Currently, 13 cases are linked to the two restaurants, not including six positive cases at popular student bar and restaurant Brown Jug dating back to August.
Jimena Loveluck, health officer for Washtenaw County, noted that contact tracing is difficult with cases coming from public interactions in a restaurant setting.
“In most situations, we can contact individuals exposed to COVID-19 directly,” Loveluck said. “Unfortunately, with the number of positive cases that report visiting each of these establishments at crowded times, there is a possibility of widespread, public exposure.”
After the first cases were linked to the Brown Jug, the restaurant closed from Aug. 30 to Sept. 8. Owner Perry Porikos, who also owns the Blue Leprechaun and Study Hall Lounge in Ann Arbor, told all employees who tested positive to quarantine in accordance with health department protocol.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Porikos said he implemented several new safety protocols, including having employees come in through the same entrance, increasing the frequency of testing and installing plexiglass barriers between booths. However, one concern has been the number of patrons waiting in line outside the bar, and the difficulty of making sure they are social distancing and wearing masks.
“Legally, I cannot really enforce that,” Porikos said. “Legally the only thing I can do is (say) ‘Listen, if you don’t listen to me, nobody comes in … Last week and the weekend before I came to the point where I tell my managers — because I have more than one place — ‘Hey, if they don’t listen, we’re going to be here for the long run, just lock it up.’ Instead of 2 o’clock we’ll close like 12:15 to 12:20. So by doing that hopefully, we’ll get to the point where they’ll comply a little bit more.”
Porikos said it is difficult to determine where the cases came from or where the virus may have spread within his restaurant, particularly due to the number of students moving from bar to bar around town.
“Especially on South U, there’s no way that I’m going to go to Rick’s and stay there for hours and not go to another bar,” Porikos said. “There’s no way I’m going to go to Blue Leprechaun and not going to go to Brown Jug. There are students walking around. It would be sad for me to say, ‘This is the place.’ I don’t blame the victim, but it seems to me that I’m doing pretty good with one third of the capacity, my employees are happy, I believe customers are happy, that’s why they keep coming. So I really cannot tell you.”
In September, The Daily reported that six Brown Jug employees had tested positive for COVID-19 in the past month, which Porikos confirmed. The entire staff then underwent testing for COVID-19, which came back negative.
After a cluster of cases was discovered among employees at the end of August, the Brown Jug shut down from Aug. 30 to Sept. 8, Porikos told The Daily in September, adding that he immediately reached out to the county health department. He said the restaurant was subject to deep cleaning and that he asked all employees who tested positive to go into quarantine in accordance with public health guidelines.
“I decided for the benefit of everybody to shut it down,” Porikos said in a previous interview. “You know, informed the health department right away. They informed me that, listen, legally, (you don’t have to) shut down.”
Both the Washtenaw County Health Department and state officials have mandated wearing masks and keeping six feet of distance from others in public. The University of Michigan has also required masks on campus, but has yet to take action since Washtenaw County COVID cases exceeded metrics set by the University on Oct. 2.
According to the campus COVID dashboard, during the week of Oct. 4, the University had a positivity rate of 2 percent and has had 122 positive cases in the last two weeks. In the two weeks ending Oct. 7, 80 percent of cases in the county came from people aged 18-22.
Daily News Editor Ben Rosenfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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