State health officials said Pat’s Pizza in Portland’s Old Port is a “common connecting point” for 18 people who have contracted COVID-19 in the last two weeks.

Pat’s Pizza in Portland’s Old Port was cited last month for failing to require customers to wear masks when not seated. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said investigators are looking into the possibility that the disease passed between patrons of the bar-restaurant on Oct. 16 and Oct. 22.

Long said that investigators doing contact tracing on the 18 people who are ill with the disease can connect them all through the pizza restaurant on those two dates, but “we have not determined that the establishment is the source of transmission.” Long said none of those with the virus has required hospitalization.

Mike Lizotte, owner of the Portland franchise of the Maine-based chain of restaurants, said he has gotten the results of COVID-19 tests on most of his employees, and only one tested positive. He said that positive result came back on a “front of house” employee whom he declined to identify.

Lizotte said he’s waiting for results on a small number of other employees, but all of those involved in preparing food have been cleared and he will remain open for takeout and delivery orders. State officials have recommended that he remain closed to in-person dining until Nov. 5 and Long said that’s based on “the incubation period from the most recent exposure.”

Lizotte said he was only informed about only five customers contracting the virus – one last Friday, another on Sunday and three more on Monday.

Pat’s Pizza was cited by Maine health inspectors in September for not requiring customers to wear masks while not seated at a table. Lizotte said he strictly enforces a rule requiring employees to wear masks and has hired security guards whose main task is to tell customers to wear masks.

“This is adult baby-sitting,” he said. “We yell at them all the time.”

Some commenters on the restaurant’s Facebook page were critical of the pizza restaurant’s decision to continue its takeout and delivery service and to reopen for in-restaurant dining late next week in the wake of the outbreak.

But Lizotte said the takeout business has been “a huge boost” that has helped him keep the restaurant afloat.

He also dismissed the criticism of his reopening decision, saying the Nov. 5 date is “not set in stone,” but has been based on guidance from the Maine CDC.

Critics, he said, “can say whatever they want. They have no clue how to operate in this time. I’m going to lose a lot of money this weekend.”

Lizotte said he bought the franchise two years ago and initially had to lay off his staff when the state ordered bars and restaurants to shut down to eat-in dining in March. But the combination of a strong takeout business and a federal payroll protection loan/grant allowed him to call the workers back after a few days, Lizotte said.

“We’re just trying to make it work,” he said.

Long said the state’s investigation is continuing.

“Our primary focus right now is to ensure that those who have the virus receive the care and support they need, and that patrons or others who were potentially exposed are informed so they can take proper precautions,” he said.


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