/St. Elmo longtime bartender dies after COVID diagnosis, employees say; restaurant reopens – IndyStar

St. Elmo longtime bartender dies after COVID diagnosis, employees say; restaurant reopens – IndyStar


State officials are inquiring about a death of a St. Elmo Steak House worker amid an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the restaurant.

The restaurant was back serving Monday after multiple employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. Still, many workers opted to quarantine rather than get a required test, hampering the full strength of the state’s most renowned restaurant.

St. Elmo had been closed after nine employees of the downtown Indianapolis restaurant tested positive for coronavirus, Craig Huse, president of Huse Culinary, confirmed in a statement late Saturday. 

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it is following up on a workplace fatality at St. Elmo.

 “We did receive a report about a workplace fatality and IOSHA has reached out to get more information,”  said IOSHA spokesperson  Stephanie McFarland.

An employer is required to report a workplace death within eight hours of its occurrence, McFarland said.

Current and former employees say longtime bartender Michael Gaines died Saturday after being tested for the virus about a week prior.

More:St. Elmo celebrated ‘end of the tunnel.’ Then it shut down because of COVID-19.

St. Elmo would not confirm whether or not Gaines was among the nine cases referenced Saturday.

“To respect and protect the privacy of all nine employees who tested positive, we will not identify any of these individuals,” Huse said in a prepared statement Monday.

A 2018 Twitter post by the restaurant identified Gaines as an employee for more than 13 years at the time. 

Gaines typically worked in the upstairs lounge, the current and former employees said.

The restaurant reopened about 6:30 p.m. Monday, according to a Huse Culinary spokeswoman. No reservations were being taken and a limited staff was operating with guests seated on a first-come, first-serve basis. The wait time was about 90 minutes.

Earlier in the day, the Marion County Public Health Department said it was providing guidance on cleaning and safety measures for re-opening, including negative COVID-19 tests for all employees before they return to work.

It had been working with St. Elmo to contact trace potential exposures to staff and customers.

“At this time, the contact tracing investigation related to St. Elmo Steak House staff has not identified any potential exposure risk to patrons based on the CDC guideline of 15 minutes of un-masked exposure,” the department said.

It is unclear when the employees’ cases that lead to the closure were diagnosed and when restaurant officials were notified of the results. 

The health department said St. Elmo on Saturday notified it that the restaurant was voluntarily closing temporarily as a result of multiple employees testing positive for COVID-19.

Current and former employees, who spoke to the IndyStar on the condition that their names would not be used, said the restaurant closed about 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The company sent a media notice about the closing about 11 p.m. 

Management on Saturday informed workers that Gaines had died, an employee said.

“Our management knew he was out sick and had been tested,” the employee said.

Gaines had texted co-workers a week ago that he had tested positive for COVID-19, they said.

“Most of us are really close to each other and whenever any of us has something going on, we will reach out to each other,” they said. “We do all wear masks. We sanitize, We follow sanitation protocols but (they) have not been diligent about reaching out quickly as soon as we know information.”

St. Elmo targeted a Monday return with management on Sunday night sending a notice through an in-house system to employees saying that Marion County Health Department had approved it to reopen based on safe staffing ability.

A sign has been placed on the St. Elmo Steak House entrance that says the restaurant is closed for a thorough cleaning Monday, April 5, 2021 in downtown Indianapolis. The restaurant closed because nine employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Team members had access to testing at 3838 N. Rural St., Huse Culinary Vice President of Operations Jason Benish said in the in-house communication.  To work, employees needed to have a negative COVID test, be fully vaccinated or quarantined for 10 days after the closure.

Those tested would receive 12 hours of paid time off.

But a majority of servers were choosing to quarantine instead of testing, making it difficult for the restaurant to field an adequate staff on Monday, workers said.

They estimate that of the restaurant’s 35 servers, 12 to 15 — including those that tested positive for COVID-19 —  are quarantining.

“I know numerous people who were not going back to work because they don’t feel comfortable working today,” said one St. Elmo employee.

Workers also expressed concern about being exposed to a tournament crowd that often included out-of-town visitorswho can be resistant to wear masks while inside the restaurant.

This story will be updated.

Contact IndyStar reporter Cheryl V. Jackson at cheryl.jackson@indystar.com or 317-444-6264. Follow her on Twitter: @cherylvjackson.

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