ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s been nearly two weeks since The Galley in downtown St. Pete took to social media to announce several of their employees had tested positive for COVID-19.
“We just believe in being honest and forthright and open about what’s going on,” said owner and St. Pete native Pete Boland. “We thought that it was important for people to know.”
But Boland says he never expected to still be closed 10 days later and was caught off guard by how long it took for employees to get their COVID-19 test results back.
He elected to remain closed to keep his bar and restaurant closed until he was absolutely sure his employees were healthy and ready to return to work. He’s now fielding questions from other local bars and restaurants going through the same thing.
“We definitely know we’re under the microscope now and everybody’s going to be looking to us,” Boland said.
The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, which represents Florida’s 111-billion-dollar hospitality industry, has also been fielding calls from restaurant wondering how to handle COVID-19 cases and the loss of business.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had quite so much contact with our members,” said Samantha Padgett, General Counsel for FRLA. “Right now, we are getting questions related to what happens when one of our employees test positive and also how when we’re opening back up, how do we make sure that our environments are safe to bring people back to work.”
The organization is offering up guidance to its more than 10,000 members but says there’s no black and white rule book when it comes to COVID-19 because every situation is different.
“It really depends on the specifics and that particular establishment,” Padgett said. “Did your hostess just test positive? Was it somebody back in your kitchen where people are working elbow to elbow?
“For all of the circumstances, the recommendations from the CDC are different.”
Padgett says while most restaurants are working to put public health above profits, she expects the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the state agency which regulates restaurants, to begin cracking down on establishments not following the rules.
“You don’t want these bad actors to push us in the wrong direction, to start pushing us closing down,” Padgett said.
Back at The Galley, staff members that have now tested negative, returned Tuesday to continue sanitizing, with plans to reopen for lunch Wednesday.
“We’re going to do everything we can to follow all the guidelines and honor of the ever-changing rules and regulations that were dealing with,” Boland said.
He says The Galley will reopen at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Live music will be offered but he says he’s holding off on promotion nights, for now, to avoid crowds from getting too large.
“We miss you, we love you, we appreciate you,” said Boland, speaking to customers. “This is always been a passionate project for us. We love being here and can’t wait to have it again.”
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