MAYODAN — A Bojangles’ employee here tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, prompting the fast food restaurant to close temporarily and send some 20 other workers home to self quarantine.
And on Tuesday, an independent sanitation service conducted a deep cleaning of the fried-chicken franchise where the infected employee last worked on March 31, Bojangles’ corporate officials announced Wednesday morning via news release.
But Bojangles’ officials did not include information about exactly when the employee at the 6820 N.C. 135 location was tested for the coronavirus, only that test results came through on Tuesday.
The worker is not a resident of Rockingham County, where the number of positive cases on Wednesday stood at eight, with two deaths, said Susan Young, county interim health director. Young declined to divulge the Bojangles’ worker’s county of residence, age or other demographics.
In the interest of preserving the ill worker’s privacy, Bojangles’ spokesmen would not disclose the employee’s exact duties.
Like restaurants across the state, the franchise had closed its dining room to comply with state social distancing restrictions and had offered only drive-thru service since March 19.
Bojangles’ leadership notified all Mayodan store employees of their coworker’s diagnosis on Tuesday and directed them to self-quarantine for 14 days, a requirement by state law, spokesman Brian Little, senior director for corporate communications for Bojangles’ said in the release.
The restaurant plans to reopen soon and the company will pay staffers during the closing.
“The health and safety of our employees and guests are our top priorities, and we are thinking of our team member during their recovery,” said Little. “Our Safety and Quality Assurance teams have been preparing for weeks as we watched this health crisis evolve, so we were ready to take immediate action when this situation presented itself.”
There is, however, no state or county law requiring the coworkers of the sick Bojangles’ employee be tested for the aggressive and highly contagious respiratory virus, Young said.
Thus far, “Bojangles is not aware of any other employees from this store experiencing symptoms or being tested, but the employees have all been directed to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution,’’ Little said via email.
Ideally there would be a plentiful supply of tests with quick results for such staff, but test scarcity and long wait times have hindered testing in general across the state and in Rockingham County. For example, it can take up to eight days to receive COVID-19 test results in the county, clinicians said.
And when a state does not mandate such testing of exposed individuals, who may be infected, but asymptomatic, “it’s not ideal because it means we’ve moved on beyond the idea of containment of this disease and on to mitigation ... that asymptomatic exposures are not necessarily being sent home even in vital settings,’’ said Dr. William S. Luking, a Reidsville family practitioner of 27 years with Cone Health System.
“We have to rely on our (state and local) health department guidelines, but it raises our anxiety that there’s really no safe haven now other than sheltering in place,’’ said Luking whose practice treats several thousand patients, many at high risk for contracting the coronavirus.
Food-service workers, much like doctors, first responders and other critical service providers, simply have more risk of exposure to COVID-19.
“So we’re dealing with the presumption that anyone can have it,’’ Luking said, stressing the need to wear masks in public, avoid large groups, limit shopping trips, shelter in place and protect the elderly and those with weak immune systems.
“It’s a whole new reality-based approach to basically say that we have to go on with our vital services, whatever they may be.’’