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El Nopal First Restaurant With COVID-19 Cases Since Reopening, City Says

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from the health department explaining why officials did not send out a notice when another restaurant, V-Grits, had an employee who tested positive.

The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness (LMPHW) has sent out an alert saying three El Nopal employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The release says all three employees work at the restaurant chain's Westport Road location.

"Customers who were at the restaurant from June 5 to June 14 may have been exposed," the release reads.

The department said customers should watch for symptoms of coronavirus, and should considered getting tested, even if they do not have symptoms.

Health department spokesperson Dave Langdon said this is the first time LMPHW has learned of any restaurant employee testing positive for the disease since restaurants were allowed to reopen dining nearly a month ago, on May 22.

"I think as things begin to reopen again, it's something that unfortunately we can expect to see in the future as well," Langdon said.

He said one of the employees tested positive at a drive-through testing site, and when contact tracers followed up, they found that two other employees also had the disease. Contact tracers are still interviewing people who may have been around the workers, and are advising those who had close contact to quarantine for 14 days.

The restaurant is closed for cleaning, he said.

"Going forward, people can assume that El Nopal would be as safe a place to eat and as any other place in town," Langdon said.

This is the first time the city has sent out a news release notifying the public of positive cases in a business since businesses began to reopen.

Langdon said the department plans to send out a press release any time an employee of a front-facing business tests positive for the virus, and contact tracers cannot locate all customers who may have come in contact with the employee.

"Obviously the restaurant doesn't have a record or a way to contact people who may have eaten there," Langdon said. "The criteria really to notify the public is when we don't have a way of knowing who to contact."

According to Facebook posts, another Louisville restaurant, V-Grits, closed voluntarily on May 28 after an employee tested positive for the virus. Langdon said the department did not send out a notice then because the infected employee had only been in the restaurant prior to the opening of the dining room.

"They were doing takeout only," Landgon said. "Because of that, customers were not endangered. They were not eating in the facility."

Langdon said he is not aware of any other public-facing business where an employee has tested positive since the reopening nearly a month ago. But he did not rule out the possibility.

"Our epidemiologists and contact tracers potentially could have already dealt with that, if there was no need to notify the public," he said.

In April, WFPL reported that 13 Kroger employees had tested positive for coronavirus, but Kroger would not disclose which specific locations. The city did not send out a notice to the public for those cases.

As of Sunday, LMPHW had confirmed a total of 3,445 cases of COVID-19 in Louisville, including 55 new cases. 196 people have died in Louisville, and 2,893 have recovered.

The city has a positivity rate of 8.58%. That's higher than the World Health Organization's recommended 5% positivity rate for a safe reopening.

The city did not provide the number of total tests administered, but 3,445 cases with a positivity rate of 8.58% indicates that more than 40,000 tests have been done in Louisville since the beginning of the pandemic.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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