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Blake’s ‘open and shut’ due to COVID

The new Blake's location on North Main Street is expected to reopen later this week as workers are able to return to work, according to a corporate officer. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Corporate officer says site is ‘acting out of caution’

A local restaurant has followed its grand opening with a few days of closure due to an employee testing positive for COVID.

The Blake’s Lotaburger on North Main Street had its grand opening Oct. 6, but, within a few days, one of its employees began to feel unwell.

On Saturday evening, the employee informed the company that he or she had tested positive for COVID-19.

“Although we have very strict sanitizing and cleaning procedures in place, we closed the restaurant immediately,” said David Wilton, vice president of operations for the Albuquerque-based restaurant chain that operates in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. “We contacted all employees who had worked with that employee or had contact with them and told them that they would either need a negative test result or be symptom free for 10 days to return to work.”

He said the store has been “professionally cleaned from floor to ceilings” and that the company has made the decision to reopen only after enough employees test negative. It has about 58 staff members now, he said.

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“We are not going to run on a skeleton crew and overtax our employees,” Wilton said.

Reopening is expected about Friday, he added.

The New Mexico Environment Department, which licenses restaurants and oversees COVID responses at work sites, known as Rapid Responses, confirmed that the restaurant had been sanitized and employees quarantined.

Since its grand opening, Blake’s has kept its indoor dining area closed due to COVID restrictions requiring social distancing, but the restaurant had operated by drive-thru, delivery and curbside service for people who order online or by phone. Those are the types of services expected to resume within the next few days.

“There is a possibility we will be open tomorrow (Thursday). It may be Friday,” Wilton said. “We anticipate by Friday that everyone who went on Sunday or Monday, that their tests will start to come back and we will be 100% sure that no one in the restaurant is displaying any symptoms or is contagious that we know of.”

He added that the company is acting on the side of caution.

“We are much more concerned about the safety of our employees and our guests than we are about our sales or anything like that,” Wilton said.

The employee at the Roswell location is the only Blake’s employee with a recent positive test, Wilton said.

Information from the Occupational Safety and Health Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department indicates that other Blake’s locations in Gallup, Grants, Albuquerque, Valencia and Santa Fe have reported COVID cases among workers since May 16 and most recently Sept. 21.

The Rapid Response reports also show positive tests at about 15 other fast-food chain locations and restaurants in Roswell during the past five months, as well as at convenience stores and grocery stores that sell food.

From May 11 to Oct. 11, the state has conducted 4,015 Rapid Response actions at employment sites. Of those, 10.4% have been at restaurants.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.