At least five Edmonton restaurants have voluntarily closed their doors after staff or customers recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Greta Bar, at 10141 109th St., closed on Thursday after a customer tested positive for the virus.
Other closures have affected The Pint's downtown location, Earls Tin Palace on Jasper Avenue, and MKT and Round 2 on Gateway Boulevard.
In an Instagram post, Greta Bar management said the customer was at the restaurant on June 14, sitting at a table with several of the restaurant staff.
Staff working that day will be tested, the post said. The bar is also urging customers who were there on June 14 to be tested.
"We have been in communication with the health authority and are not being 'shut down' but rather are taking this measure proactively given the potential health risks involved," reads the Instagram post.
"Out of an abundance of caution, and out of respect and caring for all those in our society who are immunocompromised, seniors or are otherwise susceptible to the virus, we have decided to temporarily close the downtown Edmonton location."
Edmonton surpasses Calgary in active cases
On Sunday, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, Edmonton had more active cases of COVID-19 than Calgary.
The Edmonton zone, which includes the city and surrounding communities, had 238 of the province's 534 active cases compared to 235 in the Calgary zone.
In Edmonton itself there were 213 cases, compared to 212 in Calgary.
In total, 31 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in Alberta Sunday 23 in the Edmonton zone, six in Calgary and two in the north zone.
Restaurants, bars, lounges and cafes were allowed to reopen under Stage 1 of the province's relaunch capacity, but were restricted to 50 per cent of seating capacity.
The seating limit was removed with the start of Stage 2 on June 12, but restaurants and bars still have to follow distancing rules and seat no more than six people per table.
'A bit of a red flag'
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Alberta, has mixed feelings about the restaurant closures.
She remains hopeful that the system is working to detect new cases and prevent community transmission but said the pattern is concerning.
"If this is just the tip of the iceberg and there are lot of things we haven't found yet, we would be finding out when things start coming into the hospital and the case numbers start going up," Saxinger said in an interview Monday.
"I'm still kind of on the fence because it might be the case that the systems are working and things are appropriate, or it might be the case that there is a lot of transmission that we haven't really caught up to yet, which would be a concern."
Preventing the spread of the virus within restaurants is particularly challenging, Saxinger said.
For instance, masks can't be worn by people who are eating and drinking. Patrons may be tempted to share food or enjoy a meal in large groups. It may be difficult to maintain physical distancing in small dining areas. Staff may not be adequately trained in the use of PPE.
Case numbers are important when measuring the risk but so are the patterns of spread, Saxinger said. As Albertans begin embracing new freedoms, community transmission is a major concern. Contact tracing is more important and complex than ever, she said.
While details on the circumstances around the new cases are limited, Saxinger said the closures, paired with the recent increase in cases within the Edmonton zone, raise concerns around the ability of certain businesses to operate safely.
"I think it does raise a bit of a red flag that we need to look closely at the settings and whether or not the restaurant experience is optimally safe," she said.
"I feel like we're at the point where it's just going to start declaring itself one way or another over the next week or two."
Saxinger said she hopes the cases will serve as a reminder of the ongoing risks.
"Everyone needs those reminders to protect themselves and others as much as possible because, at the moment, I'm not sure people are perceiving all that much risk — or at least, it's inconsistent how much risk people are perceiving."
2 staffers positive at the Pint
In a Facebook post, the Pint confirmed that two employees at its downtown location, 10125 109th St., have tested positive for COVID-19. The employees last worked on June 13.
The Pint, which is next door to Greta Bar, will remain closed until staff have been tested, the Facebook post said.
"There have been multiple closures of our peers this week in Edmonton due to various staff testing positive for COVID-19," reads the statement issued Sunday.
"We at the Pint Downtown want to confirm that we received confirmation Saturday evening that one of our team members tested positive-asymptomatic, and then learned this morning that another tested positive-asymptomatic.
"Though this is a voluntary closure for the betterment of our staff and clientele, we are in contact with AHS to ensure we are clear and confident to resume employing great people and serving the best people in Edmonton."
Earls Tin Palace, at 11830 Jasper Ave., announced it closed Saturday after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
The restaurant said it has been working with health officials and has been given approval to reopen Tuesday morning.
In a statement to CBC News, restaurant management said the business closed to allow for a "deep sanitation of the property" after a worker developed symptoms.
"The employee had passed our mandatory temperature check upon arrival for his shift; however, when he began feeling unwell he was immediately sent home," the statement said.
"During his short time on shift, he had not been in contact with guests and was wearing the required PPE. Alberta Health Services have confirmed that risk to others is considered low."
In a statement on social media on Sunday, MKT Beer Market at 8101 Gateway Blvd said it decided to close after one of its employees tested positive for the virus.
The employee, who was asymptomatic, is self isolating at home. During the self-imposed closure, the restaurant is requiring all of its employees get tested. The restaurant will undergo an "electrostatic disinfection."
Safety 'our priority'
Round 2 at 8130 Gateway Blvd. is also temporarily closed. In a Facebook post, the restaurant said a person who tested positive for the virus was on the premises on June 12.
"While none of our staff have tested positive, our whole staff will be re-testing this weekend as a precaution," reads the statement, issued Wednesday.
"Although the AHS said that we are cleared to open, we have decided to temporarily close until all our staff receive the new test results.
"The safety of our staff and customers are our priority, and don't want to take any risks. We advise everyone to get tested as well, even if you are asymptomatic."
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The slate of closures is offering pause to other restaurant owners as they assess their plans moving forward under Stage 2 of the provincial relaunch strategy.
Andrew Cowan, owner of Northern Chicken in Westmount, said the restaurant was considering reopening the dining room after months of takeout and delivery only. The recent closures, along with the spike in COVID-19 cases in Edmonton, has postponed those plans indefinitely.
"I think it was just too big a risk to our staff," Cowan said. "I just don't see it happening anytime soon.
"Having to close might be catastrophic for us."
With files from Kashmala Fida and Carol Amadeo
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