Nervous going out to eat? Health officials, patrons, restaurant owners weigh in

‘If those things don’t happen, then there’s risk and we won’t stop the spread of the disease’

ROANOKE, Va. – Five restaurants in the Roanoke Valley have temporarily closed after employees tested positive for COVID-19, which brings up the question: should people feel safe eating at restaurants?

Now that restaurant dining rooms can partially reopen, Bellacino’s owner Mike Fortner wants to make sure everyone feels comfortable.

His staff cleans frequently, disinfects handles and bathrooms every hour and all employees wear face coverings and gloves.

“Trying to just be as safe as possible," said Fortner.

Since last week, Chick-fil-A and Abuelo’s near Valley View Mall, Taste of Asia on Franklin Road, Mamma Maria’s in Salem and Pancho Mexican Restaurant in Daleville all had to close temporarily after employees tested positive for the virus.

Bellacino’s patrons Barbara and Roger Clites said that not everyone follows safety protocols at other restaurants in the area.

A man orders lunch from Bellacino's in Roanoke.
A man orders lunch from Bellacino's in Roanoke. (WSLS)

“It makes me disappointed, scared, a little angry that they don’t care they’re risking everyone else,” said Barbara Clites.

Carilion Clinic’s Chair of Medicine and an infectious disease physician, Dr. Paul Skolnik, said that people should feel comfortable eating inside restaurants as long as everyone follows health guidelines.

“As things start to loosen up, people should feel confident that they’re safe if the public practices all the things we know stop the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing a mask, washing your hands, practicing social distancing. The proper spacing, especially, is important," said Dr. Skolnik. “If those things don’t happen, then there’s risk and we won’t stop the spread of the disease and we’ll take steps back and be in a situation of a surge or increased numbers of infections and no one wants that.”

Eric Terry, the president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association said that restaurants are no different than grocery stores or other businesses.

“Unfortunately, we’ve kind of created this perception that restaurants were not as safe as any other places, but they really have a very good track record of food safety and sanitation,” said Terry. "So this is just an extension of what they’ve already been doing.”

“Keep doing what we’re doing,” said Fortner. "Hopefully it’s going to get better instead of worse.”

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