With new COVID-19 cases surging in Santa Cruz County, some local shops and restaurants are closing their doors temporarily or indefinitely, even absent statewide restrictions on business openings.
That’s prompted questions about whether positive COVID-19 tests among employees caused the businesses to close down, with some residents sharing posts on Facebook about store closures and asserting that some businesses had employees who tested positive.
However, if the business itself doesn’t want to disclose that information, there’s no way to officially confirm it.
Jeff Terrell, the county’s health services director, said businesses aren’t required to close or report it to the government if an employee tests positive for the disease.
“There’s nothing that says a business has to close once they’re open because somebody tests positive,” he said.
“We get rumors of: ‘This place closed down, was it because of COVID?’” Terrell added. “We get asked that, but we hear the rumor mill just like everybody else.”
That means that there’s also no way for the public to confirm rumors about infections among employees at a business that’s still open, unless the business itself decides to reveal it.
While an executive order issued by Gov. Doug Ducey does mandate some precautions like establishing a disinfecting plan, Terrell said, it’s up to individual businesses to decide how to deal with an employee testing positive.
Terrell said the health department typically learns where people with positive tests work when they reach out to those people as part of the county’s contact tracing program.
“So then, yes, we may be contacting their work so we understand, ‘OK, this person tested positive and he worked on Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Who did he work with?’” Terrell said.
But he said that the county won’t publicly report which workplaces have employees who’ve tested positive, because it might violate health privacy rules mandated by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
“You’re getting close to disclosure of who it is at that point,” he said.
The NI has published the names of some local businesses, including several produce warehouses, whose employees tested positive for COVID-19. But in those instances, reporters were able to independently confirm the positive cases with the business owners or managers; the information was not provided by Santa Cruz County.
Terrell added that health code regulations say restaurants should report certain diseases, like Hepatitis A, but there isn’t any reporting requirement for COVID-19.
And, he said, restaurant health inspections have continued as usual in Santa Cruz County, with inspectors wearing masks and taking other precautions.