May 24, 2022

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Here’s why your favorite Denver restaurant might be closed over the holidays this year

It’s beginning to look a lot like 2020 all over again for restaurants around Denver.

In the thick of one of the busiest seasons of the year, some of the city’s top dining establishments have closed temporarily as employees test positive for COVID-19. State officials say the highly transmissible omicron variant has become widespread in Colorado as of Wednesday.

“We burned through 20 rapid tests in two hours,” said Tommy Lee, a Denver restaurateur who closed one of his three popular dinner spots, Uncle in Highland, through Sunday due to breakthrough infections among staff.

“Everything we’re seeing is that omicron is hitting hard and fast,” said Fiona Arnold, who on Monday announced that her bar Room for Milly would close for the rest of 2021. Arnold and her team made the conservative decision to close for two weeks after just one person on staff tested positive.

“There’s really no guidance,” she said. “But honestly, there’s been so many iterations of this thing, I think we are pretty confident to just make our own decisions at this point.”

As restaurateurs debate closing over the holidays, they’re weighing public health concerns against the promise of year-end revenue, staffing shortages against worsening worker fatigue, and all of the unknowns of the omicron variant against lagging guidelines for a frontline industry.

Customers are having breakfast at Hudson ...

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Denver bar owner Jake Soffes owns Hudson Hill (pictured), Lady Jane and The Wild. He closed The Wild through the weekend and is paying his employees for the days off due to COVID-19.

According to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment’s COVID-19 team, as of this week, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should still isolate for a minimum of 10 days or until symptoms have improved, regardless of vaccination status. And restaurant workers can best protect themselves by getting vaccinated and boosted, wearing a mask indoors and getting tested if they experience symptoms or are exposed.

“But this is a new dimension,” Jake Soffes said of what he and industry colleagues are experiencing. The restaurateur owns three Denver bars and closed one of them, The Wild, through Sunday due to COVID-19 cases among “three individuals who are vaccinated and boosted, so you can imagine our surprise.”

“We’ve only closed our doors to the public when it was mandated (before),” Soffes said. “Now it’s the busiest time of year for all of us. What are you supposed to do when you’ve got 30% of your staff that can’t work for a week and a half?”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment maintains that fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19, “however, we recommend that vaccinated individuals get a COVID-19 test five to seven days after exposure and wear a mask in public for 14 days after exposure or until they have a negative test result,” the health department says.

Early data also shows that two doses and a booster of any COVID-19 mRNA vaccine (such as Pfizer or Moderna) also provide the best protection against the omicron variant, according to state health officials.

Facing omicron, some Denver bars and restaurants close at busiest time of year