More restaurants are making the tough call to close temporarily in the name of health and safety, while a growing number of employees have been asking the government to release COVID-19 isolation clearance letters for them to be able to get back to work.

All this is caused by the current surge driven by the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, which has resulted in 500 to 800 people testing positive for COVID-19 daily.

More than 6,000 people currently are in active isolation because of COVID-19, the Department of Public Health and Social Services reported Tuesday night.

Small businesses, such as restaurants, just don't have the staff to stay open safely when one or two employees test positive for COVID-19, so they make the decision to close their doors temporarily.

Max's Restaurant at the Micronesia Mall and Cafe Gudcha in Tumon reopened Tuesday, the same day Jollibee at the mall closed its dine-in service temporarily.

"Due to the increase of positive cases and the new variant omicron, we are closing our dining for everyone's safety until further notice," Jollibee posted on its official social media page.

But Jollibee's drive-thru, take-out, curbside, Good-to-Go and EZ-Chow services will remain open.

"Temporarily closed until further notice due to COVID," Takoyaki 8 at Micronesia Mall posted on its stall.

Potato Cloud at the Micronesia Mall food court also announced its closure from Jan. 24 to 27.

"Micronesia Mall cares about the community, our tenants and their staff," the Micronesia Mall management told The Guam Daily Post on Tuesday. "While it is unfortunate that some tenants have opted to temporarily pause or adjust their operations, we are grateful that these changes are short-term and we look forward to the full resumption of services shortly."

They are just some of the examples of dine-in restaurants and coffee shops that have had to close for a few days.

Time for testing, sanitizing

A temporary closure, which results in lost business for the restaurant and lost wages for the workers, provides ample time for the staff to get tested, to sanitize the restaurant and to give sick employees time to get well.

Starting today, COVID-19 testing will be rationed to high-risk close contacts and symptomatic patients because of limited testing supplies.

DPHSS spokesperson Janela Carrera said, while Public Health isn't involved in these business decisions to close temporarily, the department is glad that private sector companies are recognizing that they also play a huge part in keeping the community safe and are taking mitigation measures to prioritize the health and safety of their staff.

"We realize that this pandemic has been difficult for the business community as well, so we are glad that they are willing to work with us through it," Carrera said Tuesday.

Public Health does not institute measures to shut down businesses because of positive cases.

However, Public Health does monitor COVID-19 enforcement rules and perform sanitary inspections, Carrera said.

Isolation clearance letters

Just as omicron cases are surging, Public Health also has seen a surge in the number of DPHSS isolation clearance requests so employees can get back to work.

"We received over 400 emails over the weekend and average around 100 emails per day," Carrera said.

A DPHSS clearance letter is not required at the conclusion of the COVID-19 isolation or quarantine period, according to the government. However, there are residents who've said their employers, out of a concern for safety, are requiring the document.

Those who need the clearance for school, work or other purposes may request one from DPHSS by sending an email to covidclearance@dphss.guam.gov.

As of press time, there's no data available as to how many isolation clearance letters DPHSS has released during the current COVID-19 surge or how long it takes for a clearance to be issued.

Food to go

Just like Jollibee, Olive Garden and other restaurants announced the difficult decision to transition to serve "takeout only."

Ruby Tuesday announced Monday the reopening of its dining room after limiting its services temporarily to curbside carryout.

Max's Restaurant reopened six days after announcing a temporary closure because of a staff shortage.

This is reminiscent of 2020 when restaurants and bars had to close temporarily or had to limit their services to outdoor dining and to-go or curbside orders.

This year, a number of restaurants are taking it upon themselves to close temporarily to protect their employees and patrons.

"As a precaution from one of our employees being exposed to a COVID case, we will be closed until further notice to conduct thorough cleaning and contact tracing to eliminate any positive cases," Kitchen Ten-Ten at Micronesia Mall posted on its stall.

Government offices close

This is not unique to Guam. Nationwide, the omicron surge has been forcing restaurants to close temporarily.

Even government offices are closing temporarily or modifying their services because of COVID-19.

The Department of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities announced its closure "out of an abundance of caution and following a confirmed COVID-19 case within the agency." DISID is expected to reopen Jan. 31.

Guam Office of Veterans Affairs services are now by appointment only, also as a safety measure.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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