Editor’s note: 10 On Your Side is not naming the salon in this story because the Virginia Department of Health does not publish names of businesses where coronavirus cases or outbreaks occur. 10 On Your Side reached out to the salon repeatedly for comment, but did not get a response.
NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Public health officials have repeatedly said contact tracing is a critical part of reopening the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Participating in the process, however, isn’t mandatory.
Iris Dodson found that out firsthand after a COVID-19 exposure at a salon in Virginia Beach on a Thursday evening in June.
“I received a call that following Monday that my hairstylist had tested positive,” Dodson said.
By Thursday, she still hadn’t gotten a call from a contact tracer, as she had anticipated.
“On Thursday, when I hadn’t heard from contact tracers, I gave the health department a call,” she said. “They told me they knew there was a salon where there had been a positive case, but they didn’t have the name of the salon or the people to contact.”
Dodson was shocked to find out that businesses don’t have to cooperate with contact tracers – and that her otherwise cautious, mask-wearing stylist hadn’t been transparent.
The story didn’t surprise Lisa Engle, a Virginia Department of Health epidemiologist with decades of contact tracing experience.
“People lie all the time,” Engle said. “They don’t report out of fear. … A lot of times it’s because they don’t want their work to know or they don’t want a business to be jeopardized and be on the news.”
But VDH doesn’t publicize the names of businesses that have COVID-19 cases or outbreaks, and Engle says it’s not always necessary to shut those businesses down.
“It depends on the situation,” she said. “We’re not going in and saying ‘You need to close, you need to get all those people out of here.’ We don’t do that. What we’re trying to do is make sure everybody that was exposed knows, so they can self-monitor and stay home.”
Dodson said even though she didn’t get sick and eventually received a negative test result, she’s lost trust in the salon, specifically because it didn’t cooperate with the health department.
“Having the contact with the health department would have given me more guidance and information about the testing facilities and just to know in general what I should be doing,” she said. “There should be an obligation to the public when you serve the public.”
That obligation to the public is exactly why Rick Fraley shut down his two Norfolk restaurants after he was exposed to the coronavirus in July.
Clementine’s at Riverview had just reopened after months of being shut down because of the pandemic, but Fraley said he felt he had no choice but to shut it down after he was exposed to COVID-19 during a conversation with a delivery driver.
He reached out to the health department immediately.
“They didn’t say we had to [shut down], as long as we properly contained it and if we knew exactly who was exposed,” Fraley said. “We’re a small staff, we only have six people. We thought the smartest thing to do was just to close outright.”
Fraley and his wife also decided to close The Ten Top, where she runs operations.
As they waited for staff to get tested, Fraley kept customers informed on social media. The comments were overwhelmingly positive, praising the restaurants for their transparency.
“I feel like we have a good rapport with our community, I think they trust us,” Fraley said. “I think they know that when they come here, they can expect us to be clean and to be safe, and to be following regulations, and it’s not worth it to lose that sort of community trust that we built up.”
Still, Fraley lost hundreds of dollars of food that had to be thrown out, a catering contract and two weeks of income.
“It’s hard to make a decision like that,” he said. “The people that aren’t following the regulations, I think that they should be punished. Honestly, you know if you’re going into a place and they’re not making people wear masks, they’re not following social distancing, I think that’s wrong.”
Regardless of what others do or don’t do, Fraley said serving his community as a small business owner matters too much for him to have made any other decision than to shut down.
“I want to protect it at any cost and make sure there’s nothing that I’m going to do, especially if it’s socially irresponsible, to cost myself that opportunity.”
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