Ottawa

Downtown bars and restaurants close over COVID-19 concerns

At least seven bars and restaurants in central Ottawa have decided over the past 72 hours to voluntarily shut their doors over concerns staff or patrons may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Bars can be 'pandemic accelerators,' says epidemiologist

John Couse, owner of the Lieutenant's Pump in Ottawa, sits outside his establishment on Sept. 28, 2020. The Lieutenant's Pump is one of a number of bars and restaurants that have chosen to temporarily close in recent days due to people testing positive for COVID-19. (Hillary Johnstone/CBC)

At least seven bars and restaurants in central Ottawa have decided over the past 72 hours to voluntarily shut their doors over concerns staff or patrons may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Four of the establishments are on Elgin Street: the Lieutenant's Pump, Deacon Brodies, St. Louis Bar & Grill and the Elgin Beer Project.

The Third in Hintonburg has also closed, as has Union Local 613 on Somerset Street W. and Waller Street Brewing just outside the ByWard Market.

It's not clear how many of the closures, if any, are related.

The Lieutenant's Pump decided to close on Friday, Sept. 25, after learning a couple of regular customers had tested positive, owner John Couse said Monday.

"They were quite close to the staff in that they would have been socializing with them off duty," Couse said. "So we just thought it was a little too close for comfort and that it would be prudent to have all of the staff to be tested."

A sign outside the Elgin Beer Project on Sept. 28, 2020, tells patrons the bar has temporarily closed its doors after two customers tested positive for COVID-19. (Hillary Johnstone/CBC)

As of Monday, none of his staff had come back with a positive COVID-19 test, Couse said. He guessed his pub would likely reopen later this week.

At Union Local 613, co-owner Ivan Gedz said they'd learned about a positive test at another establishment run by the partner of one of his fellow owners.

On Sunday, the restaurant announced it would be closed until at least Oct. 2, and that all its employees had gone for COVID-19 tests.

WATCH | 'Might as well nip it in the bud,' says Lieutenant's Pump owner on closing: 

John Couse says closing was a business decision but that they are also concerned about the health of their customers. 0:42

"It's obviously the right thing to do, of course," said Gedz. "From a moral and ethical standpoint, there's no question that we had to be forthright and up front once we knew what the proper protocol was. If it affects the business, well, so be it."

Guidelines 'don't guarantee safety'

Bars in particular can be "pandemic accelerators" since patrons are clustering in close quarters while under the influence of alcohol, said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and an associate professor in the University of Ottawa's faculty of health sciences.

The nature of the industry itself also makes it easier for the virus to spread, said Deonandan.

"Everyone knows that the employees of bars and restaurants, for the most part, are younger than the median age of the population, and younger people socialize more," he said.

"That's the nature of the game. And this tendency to socialize — especially after hours, after you've closed the facility and you're going to share a drink together — that's probably accelerating this."

Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan says the very nature of the bar industry makes it vulnerable to COVID-19 cases, even as most establishments follow the rules. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

In a statement Monday, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) said it had not declared a community outbreak and would be engaging in contact tracing with anyone who's tested positive for COVID-19.

Its safety recommendations for bars and restaurants remain "unchanged," the health unit said.

WATCH | Owner says decision to close bar was a no-brainer:

Ivan Gedz, co-owner of Union Local 613, says the decision to close after a COVID-19 exposure at his bar was a no-brainer, but that it was a difficult situation. He feels it would be easier if the government just mandated bars close. 0:54

For the most part, said Deonandan, Ottawa's bars and restaurants have been "doing everything right" when it comes to observing COVID-19 rules — which include keeping a log of patrons and moving last call up to 11 p.m.

"They're following the guidelines. But the guidelines just aren't perfect," said Deonandan. "They don't guarantee safety, they just minimize risk."

With files from Natalia Goodwin and Hillary Johnstone

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