Food News

Bartender Claims Being Fired After Revealing Alleged COVID-19 Spread

The Midtown restaurant has been closed for cleaning and employee testing.

By Timothy Malcolm July 2, 2020

Amid a surge of COVID-19 cases across Houston, a bartender claimed Wednesday that she was fired from Taste Bar & Kitchen for tweeting about an alleged spread of coronavirus at the Midtown restaurant.

"If you have been to Taste Bar and Kitchen in the past 3 weeks," began a tweet Wednesday afternoon from Bevin Biggers through her Twitter handle @theroyalbadness, "I would highly advise you to get tested for COVID immediately and quarantine."

Four hours later, Biggers re-tweeted the original tweet and commented "I was fired for this post."

Don Bowie, co-owner of Taste Bar & Kitchen, told Houstonia Thursday that Biggers wasn't fired.

"Nobody has been terminated," said Bowie. "There has been no communication with regards to her employment, period."

Biggers didn't respond to requests for further comment.

Biggers first tweeted about an alleged wave of illnesses at Taste on June 26, sharing screenshots of a censored group chat in which multiple co-workers claimed feeling sick despite needing to work. "I think all the bartenders and staff need to get tested," she wrote. "Too many people are sick and it's a huge public health risk. The building needs to be sanitized and closed to be safe until we are clear."

Later that day, the same day Gov. Greg Abbott announced all restaurants had to scale back dining room operations from 75 to 50 percent of standard capacity, she posted an update showing that Taste, whose logo was covered up, was asking all employees to be tested for COVID-19 by July 1. On June 28, she posted a second update, showing a censored group chat screenshot announcing that Taste was closing through July 1. On June 29, Taste announced on social media that it was closed through July 1. 

On Wednesday, Biggers first mentioned Taste as her place of employment. After her initial tweet implying COVID-19 had spread at Taste, she re-posted her original screenshots, this time uncensored. She also posted a screenshot of a text on June 29 from an alleged co-worker revealing a COVID-19 positive test. 

Bowie said that before Taste closed, members of the Harris County Department of Health visited twice to inspect the restaurant, passing it both times. Simultaneously, Bowie said he was continually updating an action plan regarding how to maintain safe practices at the restaurant. He said that some staff "had cold or flu symptoms" and "we sent them home and took them off the schedule."

Bowie added that he had planned to close the restaurant after learning of Abbott's executive order, and later that day, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's re-issuance of a stay-home order to residents. That day he sent the mandate to staff members to get tested over the week, and during that period "some" employees have tested positive for COVID-19, Bowie said. Meanwhile, he said a cleaning crew has sanitized Taste, and Bowie plans to re-open "if we're at a space where we have enough employees who have been cleared."

Taste is by no means the first restaurant to report COVID-19 positive cases among staff. Many food and drink establishments across the city have previously revealed those instances. Restaurants across Texas have been allowed to serve guests in dining rooms since May 1. As of an executive order issued by Abbott effective June 12, restaurants were permitted to seat 75 percent of their standard capacity.

Restaurants aren't required to report to the public that staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. The Harris County Department of Public Health suggests a workplace send home any workers who show symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, or shortness of breath. Further, a 14-day quarantine is suggested for those sick employees, with or without testing, which is not required. 

Biggers, who has continued to maintain on Twitter that she was fired, tweeted Wednesday night that she will be seeking legal representation. On Thursday afternoon, she tweeted that it seemed workers in the hospitality industry felt they "were invincible, creating our theories, taking that 'I'll be fine, I'm healthy' stance and being reckless, taking risks because you don't have a choice in a country that can afford to take care of its citizens."

"People shouldn't have to risk their lives to work no protection/safeguard," she continued. "Businesses should be able to get the funding needed to stay afloat. This is a domino effect of terrible decisions by our government. And now we are here."

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