CHATHAM – The Chatham Squire, one of the town's most iconic restaurants, closed Sunday after a staf member tested positive for COVID-19.
After briefly reopening Monday, the restaurant voluntarily closed again Tuesday after three more employees tested positive. Owner Todd Hearle said the iconic restaurant would remain closed until at least Thursday to allow additional deep cleaning and disinfecting.
“We have been in contact with the Chatham Board of Health and have taken every precaution necessary in keeping with state guidelines,” Hearle wrote on an email. “Health and safety is our first priority.”
Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson confirmed that four Squire employees tested positive. One is a Chatham resident, two live in Harwich and one lives in South Yarmouth, he said.
The health department was notified Sunday evening that one employee had tested positive, Duncanson said. The restaurant closed early and hired a company that specializes in deep cleaning and disinfecting of restaurants to come in Monday morning and sanitize the Main Street establishment. Based on that plan, the restaurant was allowed to reopen Monday for lunch and dinner.
Officials were subsequently told that 15 more Squire employees were being sent for testing on Monday. None were in the restaurant after it was cleaned or were in contact with any other employees, Duncanson said. Tests for three of those employees came back positive.
Early Tuesday restaurant management informed health officials that it would be closing for the next several days for additional cleaning.
Chairman Shareen Davis said the restaurant collected contact information from patrons for tracing purposes, which will be done by the state department of public health and the Visiting Nurse Association.
The owner and management of the Squire had been responsive and followed state protocols for situations like this, Duncanson said.
“We've been in pretty much constant contact with them since Sunday night,” he said. “So far they have met all the guidelines and criteria set out by the state regarding restaurants and how should respond to these events, and they've been very forthcoming in reporting things to us and keeping us informed of what their plans are going forward.”
A number of local food service workers have tested positive for the virus this summer, prompting temporary closures of restaurants. In July, several restaurants in Chatham and Harwich closed after employees tested positive after attending a party in Chatham, the source of a 13-case cluster. The Port, Ember and J Bar in Harwich Port closed temporararily for cleaning and disinfecting after employees tested positive, as did Kreme N' Kone, Talkative Pig and Del Mar Bar and Bistro in Chatham. Several other restaurants reverted to take-out only due to exposure concerns.
Noting those instances, Davis said food service workers who are in contact with the public on a regular basis “are at greater risk of exposure.” She urged workers, residents and visitors to help stop the virus from spreading by wearing masks, social distancing, washing their hands and using hand sanitizer.
“The Squire has been a vital member of our business community for over 50 years and continues to be an anchor in our downtown,” Davis said. “Local businesses are vital to the sustainability of our community and our economy, and we hope everyone will continue to support them and their employees.”
Resident Elaine Gibbs said she was concerned that the restaurant opened after knowing that one of its employees tested positive. Patrons should know that, she said. All of the staff should have been tested before the restaurant opened again, she said.
The first employee who tested positive had not worked since last Wednesday, Duncanson said, and restaurant representatives said the person was in a position in which they had little contact with the staff. He said officials were “satisfied with the way they've responded.”
Over the weekend, the state department of public health informed the town that three additional Chatham residents had tested positive for the virus, Duncanson said, bringing the town number of cases in town to 27 since the pandemic began in March.
The cases involved a student who tested positive before attending an out-of-town private school, Duncanson said, and two people who are visiting Chatham for an extended period and will quarantine here for the required 14 days.