One day after the state’s shelter-in-place order expired, a cook at the Atlanta location of Nashville-based Hattie B’s Hot Chicken tested positive for COVID-19. The restaurant on Moreland Avenue is temporarily closed and receiving a “deep cleaning and sanitation” with help from a professional cleaning company, according to a post on Hattie B’s Facebook page. Prior to Friday’s closure, Hattie B’s was only open for takeout and delivery.
The 32-year-old cook, who last worked in the kitchen on Wednesday, April 22, reported having a fever on Thursday, April 23. He did not return to work and has been self-isolating at home. A representative for Hattie B’s says the cook contacted his doctor and was tested for COVID-19 on Sunday, April 26. The kitchen staff was told of the employee’s fever last Thursday and were encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 as a precaution. The cook’s test came back positive on Friday, May 1. All Atlanta employees were immediately notified of the result and the restaurant was closed.
“He’s been recovering remarkably well at home, and the only symptom he says he’s had is the fever he reported last week,” the representative tells Eater Atlanta. “Employees were made aware of his fever last week and encouraged to get tested, and were notified of the positive test result as soon as we were made aware today [Friday.]”
So far, none of the people who worked with the cook in the kitchen have reported experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and five of 11 employees are already scheduled to be tested this weekend. Hattie B’s is encouraging all of the Atlanta employees, regardless of whether they had contact with the cook, to be tested for COVID-19. The restaurant is apparently looking into hiring a private doctor to provide easier access to testing for staff and to speed up the results.
“We heightened safety protocol when the shutdown began [in March], with all staff being required to wear gloves. Sanitizing stations were set-up throughout the restaurant and at the door. Tables, doors and surfaces were wiped down with disinfectant after being touched or used. More recently, Hattie B’s began taking temperatures of employees before each shift.” All employees are asked to wear face masks.
A restoration company is scheduled to come on Monday, May 4, to do a “full wipe down of the restaurant and kitchen” in Atlanta. The representative says the entire restaurant will also be disinfected using machines which dispense a mist disinfectant.
No one other than staff has been allowed inside Hattie B’s since the beginning of April. People order by phone or outside and their name is called over an intercom when food is ready. Orders are brought to the front door.
Even with the ability to reopen for dine-in service, the dining room at Hattie B’s in Atlanta has remained closed. “Ownership and management in Atlanta had no plans to reopen the dining room in Atlanta this week, or in Nashville or Birmingham when those restrictions are lifted. The dining rooms at all Hattie B’s locations will not reopen anytime soon,” the representative says.
The situation at Hattie B’s, which chose to keep its dining room closed, raises further concerns about close-contact business like restaurants reopening around Atlanta. Despite warnings from health experts and the CDC that reopening too soon would likely result in a spike in COVID-19 cases and possibly a second wave of infections, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp moved forward with his plan permit certain businesses to reopen across the state. This included allowing restaurants to resume dine-in service on April 27.
Restaurants reopening dining rooms must comply with a set of 39 health and safety guidelines, including regularly screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms, requiring employees to wear masks, staggering shifts, and limiting the number of people inside a business. Restaurants are limited to ten diners per 500 square feet inside the dining room and bar areas.
A number of Atlanta restaurants have chosen to keep dining rooms closed for the time being, with most citing the health and safety of employees and patrons as the biggest factor for holding off on reopening.
Georgia’s shelter-in-place order was allowed to expire on April 30. The governor is urging “Georgians to continue to stay home whenever possible,” to wear masks inside businesses and grocery stores, and to maintain up to six feet between people in public who are not members of the same household. The governor’s latest executive order also restricts local leaders, like Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, from implementing more rigid safety measures for businesses and restaurants in their cities. Mayor Bottoms continues to ask the city’s residents to remain home.
299 Moreland Avenue, Atlanta. hattieb.com.
Stay home if sick. Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and twice-daily updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases.