Why Long Beach won’t release names of businesses with COVID-19 outbreaks

While some counties are posting public lists of businesses with COVID-19 outbreaks, other jurisdictions, like Long Beach and Orange County, are opting not to release names at this time.

As more restaurants are reopening, a growing number are now temporally closing to deep clean and sanitize after employees are becoming infected with coronavirus. This week, Panama Joe’s restaurant in Belmont Shore closed after an employee tested positive for the disease.

The closures follow a recent statewide surge in coronavirus infections as health officials warn that California could scale back in reopening its economy if people and businesses don’t adhere to safety mandates.

Long Beach has seen more than 500 new coronavirus cases in less than a week, and officials have warned that roughly one-third of new infections are young people under 30. On Thursday, the city reported a total of 3,509 cases.

Local testing sites, meanwhile, have hit capacity as demand for testing has surged.

As bars and restaurants have reopened, residents on social media have complained that many businesses and patrons are not following safety protocols. Long Beach Heath Department Director Kelly Colopy in an interview this week said inspectors have been visiting businesses to educate people on proper protocols and have issued some citations.

Los Angeles County in April began providing a public list of “non-residential settings” (including workplaces, food and retail stores and educational settings) that had five or more confirmed COVID-19 cases. That list does not include Long Beach or Pasadena locations since they each have their own health departments.

Long Beach does provide a list of restaurants that have closed due to vermin, sewage and other health issues, but city officials said it does not plan to include coronavirus-related closures.

City spokeswoman Chelsey Finegan in a statement said the city provides data when “we believe it will protect the public’s health, or when there is an action needed of the public.”

“With COVID-19, a person can be exposed anywhere, so it is important to take precautions whenever people leave their households,” she said. “Listing businesses may give a false sense of security because patrons may believe that only the listed establishments have cases when, actually, they can be exposed to positive individuals at other businesses. In addition, those businesses that were originally listed may no longer have cases.”

Employers are not required to notify employees if a colleague tests positive for COVID-19. That job is left to the city’s health department, according to Long Beach officials.

For months, essential workers countywide have raised concerns about lack of information or thorough sanitation from their employers.

“They are strongly encouraged to do so, while maintaining confidentiality,” said Long Beach city spokesman Ed Kamlan.

Kamlan said as part of the city’s contact tracing protocol, the health department would notify the employer if an employee tested positive “and anyone who worked with the employee would be notified that they had been exposed to someone with COVID-19,” he said.

The infected person’s name would not be disclosed, Kamlan said.

Employers are required to have a safety plan, including mandating the immediate self-quarantine of all employees that had workplace exposure. Businesses with three or more COVID-19 cases within 14 days are required to contact the city’s Health Department, officials said.

Los Angeles County Health Director Barbara Ferrer in a news conference this week warned that the county’s “recovery journey will look very different,” if businesses don’t adhere to protocols for reopening and residents fail to take precautionary measures.

Ferrer said that over the course of three recent weekends after restaurants and bars were permitted to reopen, county inspectors visited more than 3,700 establishments. Of those, 83% were found not to be in full compliance with county protocols for reopening.

“All of us want to continue to reopen, and it’s important to note that the health of our community … depends on the actions each of us are taking,” she said. “We do have control of what happens here. So please do what’s right to help each other.”

– City News Service contributed to this report

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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