Little Rock Restaurants Face Tough Decisions Amid Spread Of Omicron Variation KLRT

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As the number of positive cases continues to rise in Arkansas, the pandemic is negatively impacting local businesses. In Little Rock, restaurateurs decide to stay open.

Jack Sundell owns two popular Little Rock restaurants: the Root Cafe and the Mockingbird Bar & Tacos. The operations planned for the New Year were spoiled by the omicron variant.

“It seemed like a fun time to have a New Years brunch, stay open on Saturdays,” Sundell said.

That changed when a staff member at each location tested positive for COVID-19. This meant that dozens of other employees were close contacts.

“It doesn’t feel right to us to know that we have positive cases among the staff and to continue to serve,” said Sundell.

The restaurants closed last Thursday and will reopen this Thursday at 8 a.m. Sundell said he intended to take a short break this week to make up for vacation work, but decided to go ahead and close the doors.

“This is the longest time we’ve been closed, since we opened 10 years ago,” Sundell said.

Mervin Jebaraj is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. He said that throughout the pandemic, restaurants are often the first places to be sources of spread.

“You increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 from someone who might have it in that setting,” Jebaraj said.

Jebaraj said the country will likely experience phased shutdowns in more places as the omicron variant spreads.

“All of this only adds to the general disruption COVID has brought to our lives,” Jebaraj said.

Although federal and state funding first became available during the early parts of the pandemic, Jebaraj said much has yet to be distributed.

“There is still funding at the state level to meet the needs of businesses,” Jebaraj said.

Sundell said employees missing needed hours at one of its restaurants still go to work during this time thanks to projects such as cleaning and organizing. He said he hopes the decision to temporarily shut down will pay off in the long term.

“Restaurants can get a first glimpse of what omicron is and its transmissibility,” Sundell said.

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