Inspectors report mask, social distancing violations at Jonesboro restaurants

Inspectors report mask, social distancing violations at Jonesboro restaurants
A review of consumer complaints and routine reports made by Craighead County health inspectors since restaurants reopened on May 11 indicate some have not received the message about social distancing and wearing masks. (Source: WIS)

JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - During the summer heat, nothing quite refreshes like a glass of iced tea. But, don’t think about serving yourself at any area restaurants.

Self-serve items such as tea dispensers, salt and pepper shakers, and bottles of soy sauce are off-limits according to the Arkansas Department of Health’s guidelines for food establishments.

Yet, a review of consumer complaints and routine reports made by Craighead County health inspectors since restaurants reopened on May 11 indicate some have not received the message.

The first reported violation came a day after the ADH issued its guidelines for Phase I reopening. On May 12, a health inspector noted that the self-serve station at Munchy’s Specialty Sandwiches, 1320 S. Caraway, was still in operation. The manager corrected the issue by removing the station.

A couple of weeks later, while investigating a consumer complaint on May 29, an inspector discovered a self-serve tea dispenser in the lobby of Demo’s Smoke House Barbecue, 4115 E. Johnson. Also, the inspector observed customers enter the restaurant without masks. According to the report, the inspector left a copy of the governor’s directives with the person in charge.

Since then, according to the ADH’s online records, inspectors have responded to nine more complaints. The reports did not identify the specific allegations, and the reports did not indicate what the inspectors observed during those visits. Region 8 News has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the ADH seeking those complaints.

Inspectors have also noted both patrons and employees not complying with the state directives to wear masks within restaurants.

At Arby’s, 723 E. Parker, an inspector observed two employees on June 17 working the drive-thru and front counter without masks. Management sent one worker home while the other waited for someone to bring them a mask.

In addition to face coverings, restaurants are required to keep customers at least 6′ apart. According to the reports, some restaurants have not adhered to that directive.

Inspectors noted both Whistle Stop Bistro, 5435 E. Nettleton, and Eggselent Café, 906 S. Caraway, both sat customers in close proximity. Both restaurants also reportedly failed to enforce the rules regarding masks. In each instance, the inspector informed the person in charge of the violation.

And while a few restaurants around the state have been closed due to repeated violations of the guidelines, an ADH spokesperson says despite reports no Jonesboro business has been closed.

“The ADH has not forced or asked any business or restaurant to shut down in Jonesboro,” McNeill told Region 8 News. “Businesses have elected on their own to close due to personal business decisions during the pandemic.”

If you suspect a restaurant of not adhering to the health department’s guidelines, you can submit a complaint to the ADH by clicking here.

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