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Customers must remember contact tracing as some restaurants reopen dining areas

For restaurants that have opened dining areas, it raises the question of how to notify customers if somebody gets diagnosed with COVID-19.

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas — On Friday, restaurants across Texas started reopening dining spaces. Some owners, however, decided not to run the risk in an effort to keep employees safe and limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Arash Saberi, owner of Spinners Bar and Grill in Austin and Railyard Bar and Grill in San Marcos, was one of those owners who decided not to open his locations' dining areas. 

"I take my employees' temperature; we have a log; we check symptoms, make sure they're all feeling OK; we wipe down all the menus, even when people come in to pick up their food, we make sure it's contactless," Saberi said.

Spinners Bar and Grill currently sells food and drinks on a to-go and takeout basis. According to Saberi, the location falls under the distinction of a bar, but for the past 18 months, Saberi said the location has sold more food than alcohol, effectively making it more of a restaurant. Under Gov. Greg Abbott's orders, bars are not allowed to open dining areas in any capacity. Restaurants can open their dining rooms with a maximum of 25% occupancy.

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Railyard Bar and Grill is strictly closed, despite it being a restaurant with more food than alcohol sales, according to Saberi. Saberi plans to open it at least on a to-go and takeout basis on May 14, four days before Abbott revisits the reopen orders for the state.

With a handful of locations across Travis County, the owner of Gossip Shack said he plans to keep selling meals on a to-go and takeout basis too.

"Give me a day or two without another incident or a positive test or even a death, and then I would consider opening back up," Michael Blaylark said. "Until then, it's not worth the risk."

Two of his three restaurant locations are open. All employees from the three restaurants are working at the two that are open. Blaylark said it's just too early to open restaurant dining areas in any capacity.

Both Blaylark and Saberi want to see more testing before opening up dining areas.

For restaurants that have opened dining areas on Friday, it raises the question of how quickly the virus will spread and how to notify customers if somebody gets diagnosed with COVID-19. 

That's where contact tracing comes into play. If somebody contracts the coronavirus, they must tell people with whom they've come into extensive contact. Once that's done, each of those people must quarantine for 14 days. If any symptoms arise in those who may have been exposed, they must get tested for the virus and the cycle starts again with whomever they have had extensive contact with.

If a customer simply walks by another and then contracts coronavirus days later, the passing customer does not necessarily have the virus and won't be told through contact tracing.

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