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No laws force business owners to tell the public of COVID-19 exposure​

Posted at 6:12 PM, Jun 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-09 23:24:17-04

As businesses re-open and gradually expand to pre-coronavirus capacity, some places have begun to see an increase in cases and exposure.​

But what responsibility do businesses have to share COVID-19 information?​

25 News investigated and found they have no legal responsibility at all.​

The pandemic took an especially large toll on restaurants, places where personal contact makes up a big part of business. Now comes another problem as many of them struggle to regain their footing- what responsibility do they have for telling the community when an employee catches the coronavirus? ​

That question weighs heavily on Waco School Board member Norman Manning, who thinks before he chooses where to eat.​

"Well, I'm very careful about where I go. I don't really go to many restaurants," he said.​

No law forces businesses like restaurants to report when an employee catches the coronavirus.​

Restaurant owner Carla Dotson says it puts them in a tough position.​

"You run a risk, because you've got some people out there that are social media gurus and they can take this stuff and go either way," explained the owner of Boardwalk on Elm.​

Dr. Brenda Gray of the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District says while she notifies businesses of COVID exposure, the law, in most cases, doesn't require her to make that public.​

"We always allow the business, to the best of our ability, to be the first one to have that contact with the press," she said.​

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), on the books since 1996, is why.​

"Any personal and protected health information we can't release that," Dr. Gray explained.​

Even the Texas Restaurant Association doesn't give specific guidelines on releasing information to the public.​ So, at Carla Dotson's restaurant, she follows her mama's advice.​

"The main object is taking care of my family or taking care of the customers," said Lena Bolridge.​

A formula that works, says Public Relations executive Liz Anderson, who believes honesty is the best policy.​

"This is all so new to us. The public is going to appreciate you more for being honest, and I think in the long run it's going to help a business," said Anderson.​

How will it help? It tells customers what they need to know to make an informed choice.​

"I want to know if someone came up with COVID-19 in your restaurant, and I want to know you did something about it," said Manning.​

Whether restaurants notify or not, most say Texas sanitation guidelines help ensure that, in most cases, food from our favorite restaurant remains healthy, hot, and good to eat.