On Sept. 2, the Tompkins County Health Department reported that it had identified 25 new COVID-19 cases between Cornell and Tompkins Cortland Community College students. On the same day it released a second press release, one of the positive cases was an employee at The BoatYard Grill, a number that would increase to two, two days later.
Last week, the Ithaca Times mistakenly published a note that said that The BoatYard had closed temporarily. That was inaccurate, the BoatYard had never been asked nor had they chosen to close after being notified that their employees tested positive. But that got us questioning, what exactly happens when a restaurant gets a positive? Is it lights out or is it not a big deal?
Mark Campanolo, who owns The BoatYard, was first informed of the case after getting a call from the health department. They told him that one of his employees had tested positive and proceeded to ask for his help with contact tracing, which included sharing the days the employee had worked and who they’d worked with.
He said that the news and the press releases took a lot of his worry. Although he knew there was little to worry about, it was impossible to convey that to the community.
“Those notices stayed on my mind for many days, but it had to be done… we were, from management and ownership in damage control,” Campagnolo said.
He released a statement soon after explaining the situation: “Most recently, two returning part time employees of The BoatYard Grill attended an off campus gathering and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. It is unfortunate that this happened and we have been diligent about safety in our restaurant. All staff that required testing had negative test results. This virus DID NOT ORIGINATE or SPREAD throughout the BoatYard Grill.”
In the health department's press release, they also shared that BoatYard employees were permitted to return to work after receiving a negative test result, but they’d still be required to quarantine. Campagnolo said Labor Day weekend saw The BoatYard working with a staff of approx. six waiters and a lower local customer turnout.
“It felt like a forest fire that we had to put out for a few days and we did, however it did contribute to the local anxiety over this kind of thing. It fed into the nervousness especially because it was students and it was an off-campus event that spurred the whole thing. And for the people who don’t know us, they were asking, ‘Geez, are they taking all the necessary steps?’ or ‘How come they’re not closed,’ and they don’t know the protocol or what happens behind the scenes. We didn’t close because we didn’t have to.”
Simeons, located in the Commons, did have to close after Aug. 22, said Dean Zervos, who co-owns the business with Rich Avery. When Zervos started feeling what he describes as “flu-like symptoms,” he immediately sought out testing. He said he rushed to Oswego to get a rapid-test done, received his positive test result and after calling his business partner, they agreed to close Simeons for 14 days, per TCHD recommendations.
“Right then and there we had to close because of contact tracing,” said Zervos. “I work almost everyday and I’m in contact with every employee. We called the health department on Saturday, and someone got back to me; we went through the whole protocol of tracing who I’d been in contact with for more than ten minutes in the last three days, and that’s why we decided to close. I’d been in contact with almost every employee.”
Zervos said he doesn’t know where or how he might’ve contracted the virus, but he’s certain it wasn’t while he was at work. After the 14 days had passed, none of Simeon's employees showed positive signs or results of coronavirus. Zervos said his symptoms lasted for about a week and a half, resolving after treatment within 2-3 days.
Campagnolo said not much has changed at The BoatYard since the positive case, not much needed to. Every other day the site is disinfected with an electrostatic fog spray, sanitation and health precautions are constantly being reinforced among staff. He said they were already going above and beyond before the case. Zervos aligned himself with similar thoughts, and added that a positive test result can happen to anyone.
“Things are already difficult before this with all the rules and regulations put in place with the 50 percent seating, social distancing, to have this is really hard to hear because... operationally, things are difficult enough,” Campagnolo said.