Restaurant in Little Italy Temporarily Closes After Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

Nolita Hall on India Street will be closed until at least June 30

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A restaurant in San Diego’s Little Italy community has temporarily closed after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Nolita Hall – located on India Street, in the heart of the food-centric neighborhood – announced it would temporarily close its doors until at least June 30, Eater San Diego first confirmed.

The owner of the eatery, Douglas Hamm, posted a message on social media Tuesday in an effort to put safety first and be transparent with patrons.

“Unfortunately, a member of our Nolita family has tested positive for COVID-19,” the post read, in part. “While the staff member passed multiple temperature and symptom checks while on-premise, the health and safety of our staff and guests is our number one priority which is why we have made the decision to close until June 30th. Perhaps we are being overly cautious but that is not a chance we are willing to take.”

The post said the staff at the restaurant would all be tested for the coronavirus and the restaurant would be “sanitized and cleaned down to its bones.”

Hamm told Eater San Diego that he’s choosing to publicize this case of COVID-19 in his restaurant in hopes that it’ll build trust with his staff and guests. Eater reported that Nolita Hall is the first restaurant in San Diego to publicly disclose news of a positive case of the novel coronavirus.

Hamm spoke with NBC 7 Thursday of the difficult decision he was faced with.

"It was a lot of pressure to be the first San Diego restaurant to actually go public, but I knew it was the right thing to do. At the end of the day, we are hoping our trust, transparency and honesty will help," Hamm told NBC 7.

I knew it was the right thing to do.

Douglass Hamm, Nolita Hall

The restaurant, open since 2018, had reopened for dine-in service on May 29. It closed its doors again on Sunday after the COVID-19 case was confirmed.

Hamm told Eater and NBC 7 that Nolita Hall had been following stringent sanitary and safety guidelines that included face masks for both employees and patrons and reduced seating. He had also installed plexiglass barriers inside the space.

But, still, COVID-19 came.

"You can follow all the protocols, you can do everything. And we were vigilant, we followed all of the rules to the best that we could, but you can't control if you get a positive test or not," Hamm told NBC 7.

Hamm said all employees who spent time near the employee who has COVID-19 are now under a 14-day self-quarantine. All employees will be tested before they can return to work, Eater reported.

On June 12, San Diego County public health officials said one of four new community outbreaks of the novel coronavirus was linked to a local restaurant. Citing privacy concerns, Dr. Wilma Wooten said she would not release the name of that restaurant unless the outbreak had severe public impact.

Hamm told Eater Nolita Hall is not the restaurant linked to the county’s June 12 announcement because the positive case of his employee was confirmed after June 12.

On Tuesday, Wooten said another community outbreak had been linked to another local restaurant. In all, as of June 18, Wooten said there had been eight COVID-19 outbreaks in community settings in seven days: two at restaurants, one at a home where parties may have occurred, three at local businesses, one at a campground, and one at a social club.

Seven outbreaks in seven days could trigger the county to re-evaluate and even scale back its reopening plan and, on Thursday, county leaders said they would do just that. All further reopenings after Friday in San Diego County have been put on pause until health officials can gather more figures on the outbreaks.

San Diego County's latest COVID-19 numbers cite 10,092 total positive cases and 331 deaths since Feb. 14, 2020.

San Diego's restaurants were given the green light to reopen their dining rooms on May 21. Since then, neighborhoods like Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter have launched curbside dining programs that block traffic on busy streets during certain hours, allowing eateries to extend their dining areas into the street and give patrons more room to safely distance themselves from one another.

There are now 6 community outbreaks in a 7 day period at places like restaurants and businesses. NBC 7's Priya Sridhar reports.
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