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Owners of tavern named in COVID-19 advisories call for dialog with health officials

Dragonfly Tavern

After their restaurant was named in two notices this week from the Monroe County public health department alerting customers to potential COVID-19 exposures, the owners of the Dragonfly Tavern called Friday for more communication with health officials.

The owners, Aaron Gibalski and Brant Riggs, said in an emailed statement that they “have diligently followed all recommended guidelines for reopening during Phase Two” of New York state’s phased reopening process.

But those guidelines cannot extinguish the possibility of someone infected with the novel coronavirus patronizing a business and spreading germs. They are about “harm reduction, not harm elimination,” county public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said in a Twitter post this week.

After finding that a person who had the virus visited the tavern last week, the health department issued its first notice about Dragonfly.

A COVID-19 exposure was “believed to be connected to Dragonfly Tavern,” the notice said. “Face coverings were not widely worn and there was little social distancing,” so the county advised people who were at the restaurant during a two-hour window to call the health department, monitor their symptoms, and potentially be tested for the virus.

The county’s second notice about the tavern came two days later with the same advice.

In both cases, the tavern’s owners said, they had no opportunity to join in the county’s messages to the public and were left feeling that the health department implied that their business was the source of COVID-19 infections.

“Where does this leave establishments like ours that have followed all the recommendations yet are faced with being ‘connected to an exposure?’” the owners asked.

Neither the county health department nor the county executive immediately responded to a request for comment.

The health department did not take any enforcement action against the restaurant or its owners. “We have talked with them about the guidelines in place ... and reiterated the need for face coverings and physical distancing,” said spokesperson Steve Barz.

The owners of Dragonfly Tavern said after learning of the first case connected to their restaurant, they closed to disinfect and sanitize the entire establishment.

But they still wondered whether that would be enough.

They’re in a “precarious financial situation,” they said, and were unsure what they should do to reopen safely after hosting a patron who was carrying the novel coronavirus.

“We are hopeful that our health and government experts will be our partners in providing the appropriate guidance,” the owners said.

The tavern will reopen “soon, weather permitting.”

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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