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Downtown Boise bar owners feel singled out after possible COVID-19 exposure

Central District Health told KTVB they named the specific businesses after the individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 said they had spent time inside them.

BOISE, Idaho — It took a week for a cluster of cases to be linked to the heart of Boise’s downtown bar scene, at 6th and Main.

Central District Health put out a warning on Thursday saying 10 people have either confirmed positive or are presumed positive for COVID-19. This comes after they told the health district, they spent some time in and out of at least a handful of places.

The six bars named by the health district were Silly Birch, Tom Grainey’s, Strange Love, Amsterdam, Cactus Bar, and Humpin Hannah’s.

“The ones that they shared are the ones they remembered specifically spending periods of time in,” CDH Program Manager Brandon Atkins said.

Atkins told KTVB they named the six bars specifically to inform people who were there and let them know they may have been exposed.

However, this likely wasn't the only place the ten people went last weekend, or before last weekend. After listing the bars, owners began feeling like they've become the fall guys.

MORE: Health district warns of possible coronavirus exposure at downtown Boise bars

“Why don’t we know more, I understand HIPAA laws but why don’t’ we know where they work or where they possibly contacted it, left us kind of hanging out there naming our businesses,” Strange Love and Amsterdam owner Ted Challenger said. “They just said oh they went downtown and walked down all these streets and went to these locations, vague, very very vague.”

Challenger owns three bars all together in downtown Boise, he also owns Dirty Little Roddy’s in addition to the other two listed in CDH's announcement.

He told KTVB he will close all three bars this weekend in order to make sure his employee’s health is taken seriously. One of his employees at Amsterdam tested positive for the disease this week.

“I’m going to shut Amsterdam down and not open,” he said. “I was planning to open the other ones but I’m not going to until I can guarantee my worker safety," he explained.

While he feels slighted by the health district for being named specifically, Atkins said the naming of the businesses wasn’t meant to be a target or putting blame on them.

“There is no finger-pointing saying we know that it was at this bar at this time,” he said. “All we’re saying is we know individuals tested positive and they had indicated times within those locations. It was very possible that those locations are where it was being shared and spread amongst this population, so not the bar itself at fault.”

In fact, Atkins put most of the blame on young adults who patronized those bars.

“These individuals that shared this location didn’t necessarily have the same precautions that were being taken,” he said.

He went on to say many young adults across the area aren’t practicing physical distancing or wearing masks while out in public.

“More and more people are saying, 'Hey, it's further out of sight and out of mind,'” he said. “'We’ve been cooped up in our homes and we want to go out and meet our friends.'”

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This is something that Challenger sees for himself in his bars and nightclubs. He said he’s spaced out tables, provided hand sanitizer, and is limiting the capacity in his bars but the customers are all still gathering together.

“Social distancing was nonexistent no matter how far you spread tables out, people walked to one another and they talked,” he said. “They gather on the sidewalk. They stand in line, if you can’t let people in, they stand in line right next to each other. We can set it up but if the customers don’t follow it, we’re at a loss.”

Another important part to point out is that CDH can’t pinpoint specifically where the people got infected. It could’ve been at the bars, but it also could’ve been somewhere else.

“People could be in Albertsons shopping and be exposed,” Atkins said. “They could be over on the corner eating dinner with someone, it’s everywhere in our community.”

Challenger and two other bar owners also expressed concern to KTVB on why their businesses were the only ones named, specifically why weren’t other businesses these individuals went to pointed out as well.

Atkins said there are two reasons. One of them is because the ten people all named the bars and said they had been there. Another reason though is because the activity and behavior of the customers in bars is different as compared to a grocery store.

“When you go grocery shopping, I think it’s probably a safe bet to say you’re not going to go in with ten of your friends and laughing and joking and partying around and grabbing a drink off the shelves and shooting the breeze with one another and interacting with surfaces at a grocery store,” he said. "Then saying 'Okay, let’s move over to Whole Foods and we’re going to go over there and hang out then we’re going to jump over to WinCo, and let’s run over to Trader Joe's,' I mean it’s a very different mentality.”

As far as what the businesses should do now after being named by the health district, Atkins said they should look to their plan to decide what is best for their employees and customers.

Bars were supposed to submit plans to the health district on how they were going to implement the state protocols in order to protect public health. These plans covered aspects of social distancing, sanitation and what would happen if a customer or employee is exposed to the disease.

“They should have a process in place to say are our employees; do they have an ability to navigate this and do they know what to look for in signs and symptoms,” Atkins said.

Lastly, Challenger was also wondering why CDH didn’t put out a warning of possible COVID exposure after a large Black Lives Vigil was held on the State Capitol steps. Boise Police estimate more than 5,000 people gathered to honor the lives of Black men and women who lost their lives to police and community violence.

Atkins told KTVB they haven’t put out a warning about the vigil because there hasn’t been a cluster of cases where the people said they were all at the vigil.

“If that were the case, if we had five or four, or three cases and they said they were at this vigil this night around all these other people and my friends that would’ve been something that would’ve been started,” he said. “That isn’t out of the woods yet because of the proximity and timeframe.”

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