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Restaurants not required to disclose if worker tests positive for coronavirus

Workers are encouraged but not required by law to wear masks.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As restaurants have reopened, so too have health inspections have resumed. But what will they look like and in a coronavirus world and will inspections be looking for anything different? Will sick employees be top of mind for people who prepare your food?

For years now, I have been looking at restaurant inspection reports, and let me tell you, I have seen and read things that would make your toes curl. Photos in Charlotte kitchens taken during health inspections you and I just can’t un-see.  But more alarming than photos are the things we can’t see, like sick employees making our burgers and chicken and fish. They are supposed to stay home if sick.

“We are asking those who work at restaurants to please wear masks, but we recognize that at this point, it is not a requirement,” said the Mecklenburg County Health Director, Gibbie Harris. 

At the moment, there is no requirement for a restaurant to disclose to the public that an employee tested positive for coronavirus. Federal privacy laws like HIPPA keep a person’s sickness private.  The health department told me if there is a risk of exposure discovered during an inspection, the health department would work with the restaurant to inform any customers that they may have been exposed.

Public health investigates every know positive test and communicates with every individual that tests positive in Mecklenburg county. Contact tracing will follow the investigation, and they will (they are supposed to) contact anyone who may have been exposed.

In the latest round of health inspections in June, I saw social distancing is checked in the kitchen, and they checked to see if employees have adequate knowledge of foodborne illness and when to stay home if they are sick. By the way, that inspection I looked at was at the panda’s den on W.T. Harris on June 12th, their grade that day, an 87.5, which is a “B”.

That grade should be front and center when you walk in, and it’s ok to ask about coronavirus and if any employees are or have been sick with it.  They can’t tell you who, but they should be able to give you a yes or no.

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