In another move of “extreme caution,” Union Square Hospitality Group closed Union Square Cafe and its next-door cafe Daily Provisions for a deep-cleaning on Tuesday night after learning that a staffer had not been feeling well and sought medical treatment. The employee has since tested negative for COVID-19, but the company opted to sanitize the spaces anyway as cautionary measure. Both restaurants are reopening on Thursday, according to a company spokesperson.
The closure follows a one-night hiatus at the Modern, the company’s two-Michelin-starred Midtown restaurant, after learning that Rick Cotton — executive director of the Port Authority who tested positive for the new coronavirus — dined at the restaurant. The company hired a third-party company to sanitize the restaurant, and a USHG spokesperson says the company is “confident that there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus among our employees or guests.”
USHG is the biggest local restaurant company so far to publicly announce drastic cleaning efforts as the novel coronavirus escalates to a public health crisis. “It’s not fun to ask our guest’s relations team to call 140 guests and say we’re not going to open tonight, but it’s the right thing to do and we will do it,” USHG head Danny Meyer said in a four-minute video posted to Twitter.
Meyer admitted that business will take a hit due the situation — likening the magnitude of the public health situation’s economic effect to events such as 9/11 and the Gulf War. “We’ve gone through a lot of really, really tough things at this company over many, many years,” Meyer said, though USHG will be able to weather it.
In the meantime, the company plans to modify the benefits it offers employees and will be instituting “greater insurance opportunities for sick days,” Meyer says.
USHG president Chip Wade outlined those extended benefits in an email, obtained by Eater, that was sent to staff on Wednesday morning. USHG will pay for employees’s time away from work, at their regular paid-time-off rate, for any absences taken due to “evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment” of COVID-19, as well as any self-quarantines imposed after travel. Existing paid-time-off balances will not be affected. If staff members do not have health insurance coverage, USHG will cover the cost of doctor’s visits as long as the company is notified before employees make a doctor’s appointment.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed that the total number of new coronavirus cases identified in the city has risen to 46 as of Wednesday morning; most of the state’s cases are in Westchester town New Rochelle. Across the United States, the total confirmed cases of new coronavirus has surpassed 1,000, according to the New York Times. In total, 31 people in the country have died from the virus.
Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current guidelines state that the immediate risk for contracting the new coronavirus is thought to be low.
As New Yorkers are encouraged to avoid large gathering spaces, restaurants are seeing business declines already — even outside of Chinatown, where xenophobic associations have led to sales drops over the last few weeks. Event and corporate offices are seeing the most impact, and four huge banquet halls in Sunset Park have temporarily closed due to weak sales.
There’s no existing playbook for how a restaurant should respond to COVID-19, and so any time there’s even a trace of doubt about the safety of a team member or guest, you can always rely upon us to act with utmost caution. My message to our staff here: https://t.co/h6syv2XUCA— Danny Meyer (@dhmeyer) March 11, 2020
Update, 10:24 a.m.: This story has been updated with additional information regarding USHG’s plan for extended health benefits for staff members.
Update, 10:34 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect that Union Square Cafe and Daily Provisions will now be reopening on Thursday, instead of Wednesday.