More Bay Area restaurants close temporarily because of breakthrough COVID-19 cases on staff – San Francisco Chronicle

With the highly contagious delta variant on the rise in the Bay Area, there’s one early pandemic trend that’s coming back: temporary restaurant closures because of staffers being exposed to the coronavirus.

After starting with a trickle, these closures have happened more in the last week — specifically among fully vaccinated employees. Most closures happened after a staffer suspected being exposed to someone with the virus tested positive thereafter, subsequently prompting the entire restaurant staff to get tested.

San Francisco restaurants Nari and Aziza both recently announced days-long closures after vaccinated staffers tested positive for the coronavirus. Oakland’s Ramen Shop is also closed after a vaccinated employee tested positive, according to an Instagram post. And North Beach institution Tosca Cafe has closed twice in the past three weeks, with the most recent closure happening last week after a vaccinated employee tested positive, according to an email sent to diners with reservations.

Japantown’s Nari announced a weeklong closure Thursday on Instagram after three fully vaccinated employees tested positive, according to owner and chef Pim Techamuanvivit. When a server first tested positive for the coronavirus last week, the entire staff got tested and received negative results. But Techamuanvivit said she sent back a few employees who had gotten rapid antigen tests for a PCR test, which is considered more accurate because it detects the virus’ actual genetic material. Afterward, two more employees tested positive. Two of the three are showing mild symptoms and the third is asymptomatic, she said. It’s unlikely for fully vaccinated people who contract the virus to fall seriously ill or need hospitalization, public health officials have said.

At Aziza, managing partner Scott Chilcutt confirmed the restaurant has been closed since last Saturday after three fully vaccinated staffers tested positive for the coronavirus. Aziza won’t reopen until next weekend, he said.

Tosca co-owner Anna Weinberg said three fully vaccinated employees have tested positive in recent weeks, with mild symptoms. Restaurants’ closing and reopening cycle, she said, feels like an “accordion.” Weinberg said she isn’t rushing to reopen her other restaurants, including Petit Marlowe and Leo’s Oyster Bar, because of the uncertainty about the delta variant.

Restaurants have taken varied approaches to communicating their temporary closures to the public. Techamuanvivit posted a lengthy explanation on Nari’s Instagram page. She said it’s important to be upfront with guests.

“I think I would want to know,” she said. “Not being transparent is not really an option. It’s not responsible. This is not just the health of my business. It’s public health.”

Aziza posted on Instagram, “for various reason, we have made the difficult decision to close for a few days,” without going into details about the closure. Tosca made no public announcement and has instead been informing diners who made reservations via email or in person. Weinberg said it got lost in the shuffle of calling diners to cancel reservations.

Given the breakthrough cases, some owners have adopted additional safety precautions to keep workers and diners safe and to ensure they can keep their doors open.

Nari is closing for a full week so the staff can get tested twice before returning to work. When the restaurant reopens Wednesday, employees will no longer taste any food or wine pre-service. Instead they’ll eat out of individual takeout boxes outdoors instead of together inside. All staff will be required to wear specific masks with stronger filters, provided by the restaurant, and will again be required to get coronavirus tests monthly.

“This is scary enough as a sample size,” Techamuanvivit said of Nari’s three breakthrough cases. “Delta really feels like a different virus.”

Others have put vaccine checks in place after suspected staff exposures or confirmed cases, including Snail Bar and Sister in Oakland and Vesuvio Cafe in San Francisco. Ramen Shop, which closed Thursday, started asking diners for proof of vaccination last week. When Tosca reopens, the restaurant will ask customers for proof of vaccination, Weinberg said.

Some are wary, however, of taking this step. Aziza and sister restaurant Mourad both require staff to be fully vaccinated, but Chilcutt said the restaurants are hesitant to ask the same of diners.

“I am not sure we want to get into the business of checking guests’ vaccine cards at the door,” Chilcutt wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

Restaurateurs, instead, hope that cities in the Bay Area or the state will move to mandate a vaccination requirement for dining indoors — such as ones that exist in New York City and Palm Springs right now — and take the onus off them.

In a news release Friday, Mayor London Breed lauded private businesses that are “stepping up” to institute vaccine requirements for both employees and customers, but stopped short of offering support for a citywide edict.

Of San Francisco residents 12 years and older, 78% are fully vaccinated. In July, average coronavirus case rates for the Bay Area rose to double digits for the first time since February.

Elena Kadvany is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: elena.kadvany@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @ekadvany