Atlanta restaurants feel pinch of pandemic | Food/Recipes

ATLANTA — Dozens of metro Atlanta restaurants have temporarily closed in recent months after employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

They include the Varsity, a historic fast food restaurant in Midtown Atlanta, which has since re-opened.

At the popular Ponce City Market in Atlanta, six retail establishments or tenants closed at least temporarily after employees were infected, the company that owns the property confirmed.

Earlier this week, Minero Restaurant, a Mexican eatery in the market, stood closed. But an employee said Friday that the restaurant patio has re-opened, along with the offering of takeout orders, and that the main dining area will soon open as well.

A post last week on Minero’s Facebook page said, “We are closed temporarily, due to a positive COVID-19 test result on our team. Minero Restaurant is committed to the safety of our staff, guests and community and follows all CDC guidelines for our restaurant. We must offer a safe place for you to dine and our teams to work.”

Since the pandemic began, many restaurants and small businesses have fought to survive while facing a big decline in customers. The CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association said the COVID-19 crisis has been much worse for the group’s members than past economic downturns.

Karen Bremer told WABE’s Rose Scott that in conversations with some restaurant owners, “I’ve heard desperation in people’s voices.”

Some restaurants have closed for good, she told GHN on Friday. “It’s gut-wrenching” for owners, she added. “You’ve put your heart and soul into it.”

The food service industry has always promoted hand-washing by staff and customers, as well as sanitizing of restaurant premises, she noted.

The health of workers and customers is paramount for restaurant owners, Bremer added, noting the association is working with Gov. Brian Kemp, Public Health officials and the CDC on the COVID-19 response. “We all are working together,” she said.

At Ponce City Market, everyone is required to wear a mask. A reporter visiting the complex this week saw no one without face coverings except for people who were eating.

Jamestown, the owner and operator of Ponce City Market, said this week that the COVID cases among employees in the market haven’t been unusually high over the months of the pandemic. The company informs tenants and apartment residents of these cases.

“Jamestown is very concerned about our tenants, customers and employees,’’ said Dara Nicholson, director of property management for Jamestown. “We are providing additional cleaning outside the retail space.’’

Ponce City Market tenants helped direct the re-opening of the complex after the state shutdown earlier in the pandemic, she said. Customer traffic is down in general at the market, but is picking up on the weekends, she added.

Two residents of the Flats, which are apartments in the market complex, have tested positive for the virus, according to communications to residents. Jamestown said it has done special cleanings for common areas, elevators, lobbies and the health club.

Getting enough personal protective equipment has re-emerged as a challenge for some medical providers. PPE includes gowns, masks, face shields and gloves for personnel who treat COVID-19 patients or deal with potentially infected individuals.

That comes as COVID-19 cases surge in Georgia. State Public Health officials Friday reported a new daily record of cases, with 4,831. The number of deaths reported was also high, at 82.

Some hospitals have adequate supplies, but others are having trouble getting protective gear, according to the Georgia Hospital Association.

“It’s still not easy to get PPE,’’ said Anna Adams, a GHA vice president.

At Augusta University Health, officials are closely monitoring how quickly clinicians are using up PPE, Dr. Phillip Coule, chief medical officer at Augusta University Health, said.

Duane Kavka of the Georgia Primary Care Association, which represents community health centers across Georgia, told GHN on Friday that due to the surge of COVID-19, “We are being told by PPE suppliers that we may be facing shortages of PPE in the very near future.’’

(The health centers are also facing limitations on the number of COVID-19 test kits from the two national labs – Quest and LabCorp, Kavka added.)

The PPE situation is also on federal officials’ radar.

The nation’s top emergency official told lawmakers Wednesday that the U.S. could face PPE shortages in areas with rising COVID-19 cases, and said the reliance on overseas suppliers is a “national security issue.”

While the U.S. has more face masks, gloves and other PPE than it did two months ago, a surge in demand in states with growing hospitalizations could cause “micro-shortages,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor told the House Committee on Homeland Security, according to a CNBC article.

“We’re in a much better place than we were coming out of March and April. However, we are not out of the woods completely with PPE,” Gaynor said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Brian Kemp said that according to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, the state’s PPE supply chain is functioning well.

“When I asked [GEMA director] Homer Bryson, he said it’s the best it’s been since the public health emergency started,’’ said Candice Broce, the spokeswoman. “Getting reagents is still difficult, however.”

A reagent is a chemical used in a reaction to detect or measure a substance of interest. A critical part of COVID-19 testing, reagents typically are used in a lab to test patient swab samples to determine a positive or negative COVID-19 result.

Shortages of reagents or other materials limit the ability of labs to test samples.

The Hospital Association, meanwhile, is launching a social media campaign to urge Georgians to wear masks in public.

Adams, the association vice president, said Thursday that hospitals “have very clearly been experiencing a pretty nasty surge statewide.’’

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have hit a record level recently in Georgia. According to a state website, just 13 percent of critical care beds are available in Georgia.

The Twitter handle for the mask campaign is #MaskUpGA.

Even a small increase in mask wearing “would have a huge impact,’’ Adams said.

“People are not being as careful as in the beginning’’ of the pandemic, she said. “My concern is that the workforce is tired’’ from fighting the virus. “They’re burned out. It takes a toll on you.’’

The Hospital Association is working with Gov. Kemp and has reached out to the Atlanta Braves, the Falcons, Delta Air Lines and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, among other organizations, to help push the message.

Adams did not endorse a statewide mask mandate.

“If people don’t feel a social responsibility, they’re not going to do it,” she said. “There are still a lot of people who don’t wear seat belts.’’

A judge has ordered Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to mediate their legal dispute over the city’s mask requirement and business restrictions.

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Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News.

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