Gris Gris Chef Posts Searing Critique of Officials’ COVID-19 Response
NEW ORLEANS – After shutting down his Magazine Street restaurant because one of his employees tested positive for COVID-19, Gris Gris chef/owner Eric Cook posted an impassioned open letter on Facebook describing his frustration with the pandemic and the government response to it.
“We’ve done everything we were supposed to do. We followed every guideline,” said Cook. “We’ve cleaned meticulously, sanitized, practiced social distancing, wore masks, and did contact tracing. In an attempt to try to save our business, we followed every recommendation from national and local sources. In reality, all available programs and loans are geared towards the business re-opening, and would not work if we remained closed in order to protect our people.”
Cook argues that if the primary goal is keeping people healthy, then there should be financial support for small businesses who shut down for safety reasons.
“We are still waiting on clear communication from our leadership, both locally and on the national level,” he said. “Every option offered has been geared towards re-opening our doors for the sake of the economy. No one has said, if you choose to stay closed for the safety of your employees, we’ll take care of you as well.”
Cook said because of the “lose/lose” situation facing restaurateurs and other small businesses, he had no choice but to reopen and put his workers at risk. Despite following protocols, his employee turned up positive and Cook closed the restaurant again after only five days of being open. Programs like the Paycheck Protection Program didn’t last long enough or cover enough expenses to allow him to stay closed for safety reasons.
Cook also said he’s concerned that some people have stopped taking the threat seriously and by gathering in groups are increasing the spread of COVID-19. Small business owners, meanwhile, are on the front lines having to make decisions that balance financial and ethical concerns.
“Our government is telling us we should open up, but if someone gets infected, they are not liable, we are,” said Cook. “The businesses are responsible, morally and financially, to make sure we have cleaning supplies, protective gear, and safe practices for both our guests and employees. If we want some kind of income, we must pay the costs of re-opening procedures and supplies – not knowing if it will just hurt us more in the long run.”
Ultimately, said Cook, local and national leaders need to come up with a better plan: “The first rule of leadership is … you can delegate authority, but you can not delegate responsibility.”