Local businesses close due to COVID

  • Lynch's Irish Pub is among local businesses which have had temporary closures due to customers and employees testing positive for COVID-19. (photo by David Bailey)
    Lynch's Irish Pub is among local businesses which have had temporary closures due to customers and employees testing positive for COVID-19. (photo by David Bailey)
  • Angie's Subs. (photo by David Bailey)
    Angie's Subs. (photo by David Bailey)

A wave of closures is affecting beach businesses as patrons and employees test positive for COVID-19. Lynch’s Irish Pub in Jacksonville Beach closed last weekend after members of a group reported testing positive for the virus. Owner Keith Doherty said Tuesday he made the decision to close his business after being reopened for just a week following the two-month shutdown of bars and restaurants.
Doherty said he learned that members of a party who visited the pub on June 6 all tested positive. He said they initially thought they had hangovers but quickly realized it was something more serious when they still felt ill on Monday. None have been hospitalized and continue to self-quarantine at home.
Doherty said he hired a company certified to perform sanitation work to do a deep cleaning on Sunday and paid for his staff to conduct rapid testing. Out of 49 employees, seven came back positive. “The weird thing about it is they were all asymptomatic. They were even arguing with the test person, saying ‘I feel fine, I feel fine.’ They didn’t even have temperatures.”
“It has been a total nightmare. Having to close on St. Patrick’s Day and staying closed for two months then what happened last weekend was just like another kick in the teeth. We started getting calls on Saturday and the first call I was like OK, I appreciate it. And when we got more calls, I thought oh no. It’s so hard to tell where people pick up the virus. But after we got more calls, I said this is real and I made the decision to close down that afternoon. I found out there are loads of other businesses that are having the same issue.”
The Tavern on First Street and the Wreck Tiki Lounge are both closed. Mellow Mushroom announced it was closed for deep cleaning and is requiring all employees to get tested. They must provide their results before returning to work. Taco Lu also closed to clean and sanitize with limited reopening for take-out only to minimize the spread of the virus.
“It’s good that these business owners are actually caring because I know it’s difficult to make that choice to close again after being closed for months,” said Doherty. “But it’s good they’re being honest enough to identify the issues and take care of it.”
On Tuesday, Angie’s Subs owner Ed Malin announced he was closed for deep cleaning after an employee tested positive. He posted the information on the restaurant’s social media page.
“Unfortunately, we had an employee test positive for COVID-19. She was in contact with a friend who tested positive so she was proactive about her test, which is great. Our employee is asymptomatic and feeling fine,” he said. “For the safety of our employees and our beloved customers, we are asking all employees to go get tested and we are getting Angie’s professionally sanitized.”
Malin said the employee also had no fever or any other symptoms. He said business owners can conduct temperature checks for customers at the door but noted that patrons must maintain a sense of personal responsibility before entering a public place.
“There has to be some line on where I can force my desires to test on an employee or on a customer. If they refuse on HIPPA grounds or simply personal reasons what is my obligation? I wish it was as simple as temperature,” he said.
“Lots of beach restaurants are closing to have employees go test. We are going to see plenty of asymptomatic employees across our industry. What the protocol will be is anyone’s guess.”
Lynch’s reopened Tuesday and Doherty said he will continue to operate at 50 percent capacity and has spaced out the tables to meet social distancing standards. He acknowledged that checking the temperature of those entering his establishment is no guarantee that they are negative.
“It is absolutely impossible. Even the doctors don’t agree. Some are saying it’s a two-week incubation period. Some people are saying you can show symptoms the next day. Even they disagree on the contract rates and how it’s transmitted. I’ve even heard stories of people isolating for two months and still getting sick. That’s a doozy,” he said. “The place is as clean as it can be. They really did a thorough job sanitizing the place. People just need to be diligent about things. If you’re not feeling well, don’t go out.”
Doherty said he doesn’t anticipate a second round of closures for bars and restaurants, even if the number of cases continues to spike.
“If you look at places like Publix or even a gas station, someplace where people are in contact with the same surface over and over again, unless you were to close every single business, there’s no point in just cherry-picking certain types of businesses,” he said.
“The virus doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t just attack people in bars and restaurants. I listened to Mayor Curry’s statement and he’s vehemently against closures. The hot spots aren’t even at the beach. I think if people just do what we did, test your staff and sanitize your building, it’s going to go a long way to help eradicate this. But I don’t know how we can stop it. It’s not like somebody has a sign on their head saying that they have COVID. It’s so mystifying. We’re going to be as diligent as possible but we can’t guarantee anything.”