FARMINGTON – Many local businesses in Farmington had to close during the December holidays due to positive cases of COVID-19 among staff members or family.
The Downtown Press Cafe and the Dugout Bar and Grill both temporarily closed in late December due to positive COVID-19 cases.
The closures come amid a “spike” in infections in Franklin County. Emily Bader of the Sun Journal reports “that in mid-December, Franklin County reported a record average of nearly 15 new cases per day over a seven-day period.”
According to New York Times COVID-19 tracking data, Franklin County hit a peak of 44 new cases on Dec. 14. As it stands, The Times reports that “cases have increased recently and are extremely high” in the county.
Bader added that “the omicron variant could cause even more problems for [Franklin County]one of the least vaccinated in Maine.
The press closed on December 20, until Christmas weekend (when it is usually closed) and reopened on Monday December 27. The press also announced that it was closing on Friday, January 7 due to “health issues among our staff,” according to a post on their Facebook page.
On Thursday, Jan. 6, Bracy told the Franklin Journal that her son tested positive the week of Dec. 13-17 due to school transmission.
At the time of the interview, another staff member was not at work because he had also been defined as a close contact, Bracy said.
However, Bracy said he does not plan to implement a masking policy among staff anytime soon.
Although they masked “very aggressively” at the start of the pandemic, Bracy said they now mask “based on your symptoms”, have “gone [the decision of masking] until we feel.
“We haven’t really had that discussion [about a masking policy for staff]”, Bracy said.
Bracy said if there was another positive case or an outbreak among staff, they could have a “discussion” and there could be “a chance” that he and his wife Brianna Bracy, a co-owner with whom he runs the store, ask the “full-time” mask staff.
At this point, the staff consists of the Bracys and two other part-timers.
Bracy said neither he nor Brianna are vaccinated at this time. He says he does not know the vaccination status of the other two employees.
However, Bracy said he was “not really” concerned about spreading the virus – to other employees or customers.
“We try to be very careful with how we feel,” Bracy said. “Whenever we are sick we just shut down and stay home and try to get by.
“We try to be careful. With hygiene, something we do very well here and trying to wash our hands constantly,” added Bracy.
When told that data shows the virus can be transmitted by an asymptomatic individual with COVID-19, Bracy said it was “food for thought.”
At The Dugout, manager Amanda Porter and owner Shaun Riggs said three staff members fell ill and two tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, The Dugout closed on Tuesday December 29 and reopened on Sunday January 2. They previously closed around June or July 2021 due to close contact with staff, Riggs said.
Porter said the dugout closed “as a precaution” in case there were “false negative” test results among staff.
Porter said she would like to see masking among staff. Although staff-wide masking is unlikely to be implemented anytime soon, according to Riggs.
Riggs said he required people who are close contacts, feel sick or test positive for COVID to mask up for five days while working after the required quarantine or isolation period.
Riggs added that he also requires all unvaccinated employees to wear a mask – although he said there are currently no unvaccinated people on staff.
Riggs said he was following CDC guidelines and did not plan to enforce a masking policy for staff members at this time.
“My policies here are the minimum procedures recommended by the Maine CDC,” Riggs said.
However, Riggs added that he is “really happy that my staff” choose to hide or stay at home when they inform him that it is a close contact, that he is surrounded by sick people or individuals defined as close contacts.
The closures have sparked discussions among community members and other businesses about the importance of masking policies for staff and customers.
Kenny Brechner, owner of the Devaney, Doak & Garrett bookstore, requires staff to wear a mask and requests that customers entering the store also wear one.
Brechner said there have been no outbreaks or positive cases among DD&G staff, which he attributes to “masking” and “vigilance.”
“The disease is transmitted by breathing in the air and in enclosed spaces,” Brechner said. “Tome, [requiring masking] is obvious.
While the staff masking policy has mitigated any need for DD&G to shut down, Brechner also sees the policy as a duty to the community and the protection of customers.
“We take our relationship with the community, our support for the community and their support very seriously,” Brechner said. “If there is anything we can do to keep our customers safe, we are happy to do it.
“No one knows who has underlying conditions or how people will react and the spread is so intense,” he added. “If one person gets the disease, it affects many other people. That’s the nature of this kind of virus.
Although only the Dugout and the press announced temporary closures due to COVID-19, there were reportedly other positive COVID-19 cases among employees of local Farmington businesses. DD&G is one of the few companies in the city that has masking policies for staff while on the job.
Bracy declined to comment on the recent closure, but said he does not have COVID-19. It’s unclear if the closure was related to COVID-19 or if some staff members tested positive. The press has not yet announced when they will reopen. This story will be updated with any new information.
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