From Ron's Diner in Mangilao to Max's Restaurant at the Micronesia Mall, restaurants, other businesses and government agencies have been temporarily closing or modifying their services once again as the omicron-driven COVID-19 surge hits more employees and patrons.

The latest surge, though driven by what health officials said is a much milder variant of SARS-CoV-2, compared to delta, is nevertheless disrupting businesses and families.

At least 6,665 COVID-19-positive cases are currently in "active isolation," the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services reported Friday.

"The virus took us down," Ron's Diner owner Ron Fejeran said Friday, as the family-owned CHamoru restaurant in Mangilao had to temporarily close this week when employees, including himself and his whole family, started getting sick and then later were confirmed to be COVID-19-positive.

Half of the restaurant's staff tested positive, he said, and he wanted to make sure everyone is safe and isolating.

"We're taking the safety protocols. When one's feeling sick, one needs to stay home and get tested and, if confirmed positive, needs to isolate or quarantine. The health and safety of our employees and our customers are most important to us," Fejeran told The Guam Daily Post via telephone.

The Guam Office of Veterans Affairs announced Friday that its services will be strictly by appointment only, starting Jan. 24, "due to the recent rise in COVID cases," and to take the important step of keeping veterans, their families and staff safe.

The Guam Office of Veterans Affairs said those who want to make an appointment should call 671-475-8388.

DPHSS has been reporting 700 to 800-plus new COVID-19-positive cases a day. Hundreds of individuals continue to form lines at the DPHSS drive-thru testing clinic at Tiyan and other testing sites. Friday's total was 709 positive test results out of 2,542 people tested.

DPHSS spokesperson Janela Carrera on Friday said the department has seen an increase in the number of requests for DPHSS isolation clearance letters, "especially this week."

The omicron variant is highly transmissible and has become the most dominant strain nationwide.

An isolation clearance letter is not required by DPHSS for those who tested positive for COVID-19.

However, 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.

Cannot operate

The ongoing surge has been impacting businesses that are already short-staffed to begin with, and are unable to operate with more employees testing positive for COVID-19 and needing to stay home.

Restaurants, in particular, have taken to social media to let the public know they are closed temporarily. 

"Due to recent surges in COVID-19 cases and close contacts with our staff (who will need to isolate due to DPHSS guidelines), we decided to close for the week. We will reopen Tuesday, January 25," Cafe Gudcha said in its social media pages.

Ruby Tuesday in Tamuning, in its social media posts, announced that its dining room is temporarily closed, but the restaurant is offering curbside carryout service from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

"Max's Restaurant Guam will temporarily be closing its doors due to a staff shortage. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and look forward to serving you again, soon," Max's Restaurant said in its social media posts.

Hambros Guam also announced that it will be "closing until further notice," and asked the public to "please check our social pages for further updates."

Primo Pizzakaya also announced it was closed Jan. 20 "due to staff shortage as we await test results for clearance." It reopened Jan. 21.

Pepper Lunch at Micronesia Mall also had to close temporarily "to get our staff tested and sanitize our location," the restaurant said in its social media post, adding that it continues to take safety precautions for the health and safety of guests and staff. The restaurant was open again Friday.

There are others closing for a few days, and others limiting their services. Some businesses have remained relatively unscathed.

In year one of the pandemic in 2020, several businesses had to close for weeks and months because of health and safety protocols. Among the hardest hit were restaurants and bars.

'We lose money'

For Ron's Diner, as well as other restaurants, there's no telling when it will be able to reopen because reopening depends on the condition of the employees. 

"What our plan is, we have a diner WhatsApp chat, when everybody gets better and feeling better, we get tested again," Fejeran said. "Once the results come back negative, then we can go back to the restaurant, sanitize everything, and then we open again."

However, if a number of employees test positive again, the restaurant won't have a choice but to close again, Fejeran said.

"Every day we're not open, we lose money," Fejeran said.

Operating Ron's Diner is the Fejeran family's only source of income, so every single day with no income from the restaurant means a scramble to make payments to the landlord for the restaurant space, power, water and other bills.

"We need the cooperation of the landlord, the government, the utilities," Fejeran said.

Fejeran said he's thankful for the local and federal grants that have been made available to small businesses such as his. "But it's taking awhile," he said, for some aid to reach small businesses.

Ron's Diner will be marking its 10th year this August, and Fejeran hopes that the community will continue to support his restaurant.

The pandemic is the most challenging time for the business, he said.

"Due to COVID protocol, we will be suspending all dine-in, curbside and all other food services until further notice," Ron's Diner posted on social media. "The health of our staff, guests and our loved ones is very important to us so we must take every precaution necessary to ensure optimal health for all."

'Worst days of my life'

Fejeran said he and his wife, along with their two children younger than 10, tested positive for COVID-19. He said his family has been vaccinated.

He said it's been painful for him, and it's even more painful to see his children go through the same thing.

Fejeran said he battled coughing and sore throat, among other things.

"That whole Saturday, I tell you, it's one of the worst days of my life," he said. "I don't wish this upon anybody because it's tough."

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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