The Alexandria Health Department is now conducting virtual restaurant inspections for the first time, and the department’s environmental health manager estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic has closed half of the city’s 860 permitted food establishments.
“We’re touching base with all of our restaurants and focusing very much on employee health, obviously, with a COVID-19 focus,” Rachel Stradling said. “We’re doing that so that we can keep in touch and keep up with our infection work.”
That means the department is reaching out to restaurants and businesses via email and phone, although if the pandemic continues for an extended period that may include getting more technology involved in touching base with business owners. Stradling currently has four staffers dedicated to the work, and she said that no businesses have been shut down since Union Street Public House was forced to close on March 17 for failing to follow the 10-person maximum for establishments.
“Right now it’s a matter of phoning up making an appointment to speak to the person in charge when they have a little time,” Stradling said. “I would say approximately 50% of our restaurants are open. Those that were able or previously doing a delivery and take out option, obviously the change was much easier for them.”
Many restaurants will not survive the pandemic, Stradling said.
“Unfortunately, some of the businesses that we have open today will not be open in three, four months time or however long it takes to get to the end of this COVID-19,” she said. “Alexandria is an amazing place to live and to work, and it’s important that we get those places back open as possible for the next generation of restauranteurs, and it’s horrible to say that, but I think that’s going to have to be one of our focuses.”
Stradling added, “Also, the restaurants that closed their doors, we’re going to help them get back open. The one thing I hope that we keep is the relationship that we’ve developed with our restaurants. It’s moved on from the health inspector coming along and telling you what to do into a much more combined joint force against a virus.”
The department is asking residents to stay home as much as possible, and also to order from their favorite restaurants.
“If you do have a favorite restaurant that you’d like to go to and if they are still offering a delivery and takeout option, I would encourage everyone to go,” Stradling said. “Please do the social distancing, please stay six feet apart… They desperately need our help and our money.”
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Staff photo by James Cullum