The coronavirus pandemic has impacted many industries, including ours. This is how we’re reporting the news nowadays.
Two retailers and one restaurant at Westfield Palm Desert have undergone deep cleaning after each had an employee onsite test positive for COVID-19, according to mall officials.
The businesses include Vans, M. Ruiz Jewelers and Stuft Pizza, said Zach Eichman, a spokesperson for Westfield.
Mall officials were notified of the positive test results on June 13, according to a June 17 posting from Nino Rodriguez, Westfield Palm Desert’s vice president of shopping center management.
“The tenants have been directed to consult the local public health authority and has advised us that their premises have undergone a thorough cleaning process,” Rodriguez said.
The three mall businesses are among several Coachella Valley establishments that have already had one or more employees test positive for the illness as Riverside County’s economy reopens at the same time health officials are reporting a spike in new COVID-19 cases.
In these situations, owners are oftentimes choosing to temporarily close their business for deep cleaning. Such actions are not mandated by the county health department, said spokesperson Jose Arballo Jr.
“They’re not legally required (by the county health department) to do anything,” he said. He said some businesses “may have their own guidelines.”
Arballo added that health department staff will call businesses to “go over the safety procedures and offer suggestions on what they can do to better protect their customers and employees, such as requiring face coverings and maintaining social distancing.”
And while the California Department of Public Health has issued detailed guidelines on reopening retail businesses and restaurants — including lengthy descriptions of cleaning and disinfecting protocols and physical distancing guidelines — the documents contain little advice on what to do in the event that an employee tests positive.
The state recommends that businesses “establish a written, workplace-specific COVID-19 prevention plan.”
As part of that plan, the documents say, businesses should “investigate any COVID-19 illness and determine if any work-related factors could have contributed to risk of infection. Update the plan as needed to prevent further cases.”
“It is a tough time to navigate for sure,” said John Bertram, owner of Stuft Pizza Bar & Grill, which has locations in Palm Desert and La Quinta.
Bertram said restaurant management learned June 13 that an employee at the mall location had tested positive for the virus. The restaurant closed for dine-in service immediately and deep-cleaned the business on June 13 and 14, he said.
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Management also recommended that all employees get tested for the virus, Bertram said. All of their tests have so far come back negative, he said.
The results, he said, prove the effectiveness of the measures the restaurant has put in place to prevent the spread of the illness, including the use of face masks, temperature checks, social distancing, and extra cleaning and sanitation.
He said management has been in communication with county health officials, to inform them of the steps it has taken.
Health officials “confirmed that everything we have done has more than covered their guidelines,” he said. “And they confirmed that we did not have to close based on our situation.”
The restaurant conducted one more deep-cleaning and reopened Monday, Beltram said.
Karen Ruiz, who owns M. Ruiz Jewelers, said she closed the jewelry store as soon as she learned that one part-time employee had tested positive. The business remained closed for a week, she said. She and her other employees got tested for COVID-19 in the meantime, she said, and everyone else tested negative.
“We didn’t want to have to close — we need to be open to make money,” Ruiz said. But, she added, “I felt like we had no choice. This is the only responsible thing to do.”
Ruiz said she and her employees have been “super vigilant” about cleaning and sanitation. They try to prevent customers from touching jewelry, she said, and decontaminate jewelry and surfaces regularly.
Vans doesn’t open to the public until June 26, according to Westfield Palm Desert spokesperson Franchesca Forrer.
Riverside County has been placed on the California Department of Public Health’s “targeted engagement list” — effectively a watch list — because the number of new COVID-19 cases over the previous two weeks had spiked. Additionally, the positive-test rate was up in the past week and the increase in hospitalizations over the past three days exceeded acceptable state guidelines.
Other recently reopened businesses in the Coachella Valey have reported one or more cases of the virus. LG’s Prime Steakhouse has closed its locations in Palm Springs and La Quinta until July 3 after an employee tested positive for coronavirus.
Walmart in Palm Desert closed this past weekend to conduct a deep cleaning of the facility. Tiffany Wilson, the company’s director of communications, was unable to provide information “about those impacted for privacy reasons” and said “information related to COVID-19 cases should come from local health officials.” The store reopened Monday.
Desert Sun reporters Nicole Hayden and Melissa Daniels contributed to this report.
Rebecca Plevin is a reporter for The Desert Sun. Reach her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @rebeccaplevin.
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