A sign, photographed Wednesday, Jan. 12, announces The Downtown Press Cafe in Farmington would be “temporarily closed … due to health concerns within our staff.” Ahead of the Friday, Jan. 7, temporary closure, The Press had closed Dec. 20-24 due to COVID-19 safety precautions after an employee learned they were a close contact and the co-owners’ child tested positive for COVID-19. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — Numerous local businesses in Farmington had to close around the holidays in December due to positive cases of COVID-19 among staff members or family.

The Downtown Press Cafe and The Dugout Bar and Grill both temporarily closed their doors in late December due to positive cases of COVID-19.

The closures come amid “a peak” of infections in Franklin County. The Sun Journal’s Emily Bader reports “in mid-December, Franklin County reported a record average of almost 15 new cases per day over a seven-day period.”

According to the New York Times’s COVID-19 tracking data, Franklin County hit a peak of 44 new cases on Dec. 14. As it stands, the Times reports that “cases have increased recently and are extremely high” in the county.

Bader added that “the omicron variant could spell even more trouble for [Franklin County], one of the least-vaccinated in Maine.”

The Press closed on Dec. 20, through Christmas weekend (when they are usually closed) and opened again on Monday, Dec. 27. The Press also announced they were closing Friday, Jan. 7, due to “health concerns within our staff,” according to a post on their Facebook page.

On Thursday, Jan. 6, Bracy told the Franklin Journal that his son tested positive the week of Dec. 13-17 due to an in-school transmission.

At the time of the interview, another staff member was not at work because they had also been defined as a close contact, Bracy said.

However, Bracy said he was not planning to implement a masking policy among staff anytime soon.

Though they were masking “very aggressively” at the beginning of the pandemic, Bracy said they are now masking “depending on your symptoms,” have “left [the decision of masking] up to how we feel.

“We haven’t really had that discussion [about a masking policy for staff],” Bracy said.

Bracy said that if there was another positive case or outbreak among staff, they might have a “discussion” and there could be “a chance” he and his wife Brianna Bracy, a co-owner with whom he runs the shop, require staff to mask “full time.”

At this point, the staff consists of the Bracys and two other part-time employees.

Bracy said that neither he nor Brianna are vaccinated at this time. He said he does not know the vaccination status of the other two employees.

However, Bracy said he is “not really” concerned about transmitting the virus – to either the other employees or customers.

“We do try to be very cautious with the way we’re feeling,” Bracy said. “Anytime we’re sick, we just close and stay home and we try to get through.

“We’re trying to be cautious. With hygiene, something that we do really well with here and trying to be washing hands constantly,” Bracy added.

When informed that data shows the virus can be transmitted by an asymptomatic individual with COVID-19, Bracy said that was “food for thought.”

At The Dugout, manager Amanda Porter and owner Shaun Riggs said that three staff members fell ill and two tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, The Dugout closed on Tuesday, Dec. 29, and opened up again Sunday, Jan. 2. They had previously closed around June or July 2021 because of a close contact on staff, Riggs said.

Porter said the Dugout closed “as a precautionary” measure in case there were any “false-negative” test results among staff.

Porter said she’d like to see masking among staff. Though its not likely that staff-wide masking will be implemented any time soon, according to Riggs.

Riggs said that he is requiring individuals that are close contacts, feel ill or test positive for COVID to mask for five days while working following the required quarantine or isolation period.

Riggs added that he is also requiring all unvaccinated employees to mask — though he said there aren’t any unvaccinated individuals on staff at this time.

Riggs said he is following CDC guidelines and does not plan to enforce a masking policy for staff members at this point in time.

“My policies here are the minimum procedures that the Maine CDC recommends,” Riggs said.

However, Riggs added that he’s “really happy that my staff” choose to mask or stay home from work when they inform him that they are a close contact, are around individuals who are sick or around individuals defined as close contacts.

The closures have raised discussion among community members and other businesses about the importance of masking policies for staff and customers.

Kenny Brechner, owner of bookshop Devaney, Doak & Garrett, requires staff wear a mask and asks that customers entering the store wear one as well.

Brechner said that there haven’t been any outbreaks or positive cases among DD&G staff, which he credits to “masking” and “vigilance.”

“The disease is transmitted through breathing in the air and in enclosed spaces,” Brechner said. “To me, [requiring masking] is a no brainer.”

While the staff masking policy has mitigated any need for DD&G to close, Brechner also views the policy as a duty to the community and protecting customers.

“We take our relationship with the community, our support of the community and their support of us very seriously,” Brechner said. “If there’s anything we can do to keep our customers safe, we’re happy to do it.

“Nobody knows who’s got underlying conditions or how people are gonna react and the spread is so intense,” he added. “If one person gets the disease, it affects many other people. That’s the nature of this kind of virus.”

Though only the Dugout and the Press announced temporary closures due to COVID-19, there have reportedly been other COVID-19 positive cases among employees at local businesses in Farmington. DD&G is among only a handful of businesses in town that enforces masking policies for staff while working.

Bracy declined to comment on the recent closure, but said that he did not have COVID-19. It is unclear if the closure was related to COVID-19 or if specific staff members tested positive. The Press has not yet announced when they will be opening back up. This story will be updated with any new information.


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