Workers say Orem steakhouse opened without quarantines after employee tested positive for COVID-19

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Jessica Picaso tests a patient for COVID-19 during an event sponsored by Comunidades Unidas at Mid-Valley Health Clinic in Midvale on May 20, 2020.

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing free access to critical stories about the coronavirus. Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter, sent to your inbox every weekday morning. To support journalism like this, please donate or become a subscriber.

Employees at an Outback Steakhouse in Orem say that after a hostess tested positive for COVID-19, other workers who had been in contact with her were not asked to be tested nor to go into self-quarantine — and many returned to work.

A statement from the Outback West corporate office gave a different story.

“We had an employee test positive at our Orem, Utah restaurant. We closed the restaurant to thoroughly sanitize. No other employees have shown any sign of illness,” it said in response to inquiries from The Salt Lake Tribune.

“Those who had prolonged, close contact with the employee who tested positive will not be back to work for 14 days. We will continue to screen employees for symptoms prior to starting their shift every day. We take this very seriously and have been working closely with health experts and local health officials to follow all recommended safety measures,” it said.

Employee Elizabeth Burley raised concerns on Twitter, and then responded to questions from The Tribune — and said some employees did not find out about the positive test until they reported for weekend shifts.

She said a hostess tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. The restaurant then closed Friday for a “deep cleaning,” and reopened on Saturday evening — and has remained open since with limited seating.

She said she and other workers were told “that no one is required to get tested and no one is required to quarantine.” Also, she said the restaurant did not tell her directly that someone had tested positive, but she found out when word was spread by fellow employees. However, she confirmed that at least some with more direct contact were informed directly by management.

Burley said she returned to work Saturday evening “because I really didn’t have a choice.”

She said at least one other worker said that he reported he had been in close contact with the infected worker but was told, “Well, we really need you to work tonight, so come in anyway.” She said she found some co-workers did not know about the exposure when she worked on Saturday until she told them.

“There are some people who are self-quarantining,” Burley said, but it was not everyone who had contact with the hostess.

She added she has not yet been tested, saying she called a state hotline and was told to wait for seven days after exposure to ensure best test results.

Another employee, who asked to remain anonymous for now, backed what Burley said. He noted he had worked four straight shifts with the infected worker.

He added he was told that self-quarantining “is up to the workers.” Does that worry him? “Oh my gosh, yes,” he said. “Just the thought I could be serving people — there are so many older people who come in — and what if I’m asymptomatic [but positive]? It’s terrifying.”

Asked whether the restaurant suggested testing, the second employee said, “I wasn’t told not to — I wasn’t told to.” He said he also planned to be tested later in the week because a hotline told him it was best to be tested a week after his most recent exposure.