One of NYC’s most popular sushi omakase restaurants is now checking the body temperatures of the people who walk through its doors — the latest instance of New York City restaurants responding to the COVID-19 outbreak by taking precautionary measures into their own hands.
Before entering the West Village or Park Slope locations of Sushi Katsuei, diners, vendors, delivery, workers, and staff must now “pass” a temperature reading, which checks for unusual changes in body temperature, one of the primary symptoms of the new coronavirus.
Although the World Health Organization clarifies that carriers of the disease may be contagious up to five days before exhibiting symptoms, the extra precaution seemed necessary in light of diner concerns, says Aye Aye Swe, one of the restaurant’s owners. Despite being a popular destination for affordable omakase, the last few weeks of business have been unusually slow, with only 40 customers coming into the West Village restaurant last Friday, she says.
“I don’t know what else to do,” Swe says. “Customers are worried. So am I.”
The tests are administered by aiming a laser thermometer into people’s mouths, and no need to touch skin. The new policy began on Monday, and an explanation for it is now posted on a sign at the restaurant’s entrance and throughout the premises, with additional information on how the restaurant is handling imported goods and employee health. So far, none of the restaurants’ staff, customers, or delivery workers have been found to have higher-than-normal temperatures.
Swe says that her staff sanitizes twice daily, once after Sushi Katsuei closes and again before it opens. Although there have been no reported novel coronavirus diagnoses in the West Village at the time of writing, Swe says the twice daily cleanings were not enough. She “had no choice” but to take more extreme measures, she says.
“The West Village has lots of tourists. We have people coming here from a lot of different states and countries. I need to protect myself, the customer, and my staff.”
Business has slowed across New York City, but Asian-owned restaurants have been especially hard hit. Cautious behavior has already led to closures in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, where four of the biggest dim sum parlors and banquet halls have shut down with unclear reopening timelines. Manhattan Chinatown banquet restaurant Jing Fong has limited hours to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.