One bar’s response to a Covid-positive patron

12 August, 2020 by Brydie Allen

“Our first thought to be honest was that it looked like a hoax.”

This is what the Co-owners of Burrow Bar in Sydney, Chau Tran and Bryce McDonough, thought when they received a message from a seemingly random account via Facebook about one of their patrons testing positive for COVID-19, wrote Brydie Allen for Bars and Clubs.


They said: “It was such an odd thing to be sent via Facebook messenger that in more normal times it would have immediately been dumped as spam.”

But after they confirmed it was real and began a dialogue with the health authorities, the bar owners immediately sprung into action.

“[At first], it was just about listening. Listen to what they needed, listen to their direction for containment and tracing, listen to their advice for follow-up and proactive action. It was definitely unnerving, but that sensation didn’t really settle in for a while – the overwhelming emotion was a sense of responsibility to everyone’s collective safety,” Tran and McDonough told Bars and Clubs. 

Through that initial period, there were three things that influenced what would happen next; how long the patron was at Burrow Bar, what the bar’s COVID Safe plan looked like and how well it was adhered to, and how well social distancing was maintained inside the venue.

“With comprehensive liaising with the government, we realised that the customer was there over two hours (not the hour and a half the patron first gave to authorities), everyone who was in the vicinity for those two hours was considered a close contact,” Tran and McDonough explained.

“As our COVID Safe plan is meticulous and followed to the letter, and our spacing between parties and tables leaves no share space and the chance for spread exceedingly low, we were able to open again without further issue. However, we decided to close for the night until we could get a professional COVID sanitation team come through and do a sweep – for both our and our customers’ peace of mind.”

Staff from that day self-isolated as soon as the news came through and everyone was tested, with all results coming back negative. They’ve now reopened, after closing of their own accord for a night to go above and beyond with a deep clean. No further cases have been noted at the bar, and there has been no evidence of transmission there either.

Some staff remain in precautionary isolation, and Tran and McDonough said they have even received offers from industry peers to help cover shifts and keep them open and trading at such a critical time for the business and the wider Sydney economy.

“There have been some truly lovely messages of support! Many friends, old and new, and more than a few near-strangers have reached out to offer condolences, support, even a helping hand. In many ways it has been far above what we would have expected,” they said.

In many ways, the response and outcome of this situation for Burrow Bar shows a true COVID Safe success story, and highlights the value of always maintaining the current operating standards to the highest degree.

But at the same time, Tran and McDonough say the experience also reveals that there is: “definitely still an element of confusion, fear and gross misunderstanding in the air.”

One example is the fact that the day after reopening, the team was turned away from a venue for their after-work drinks. Another can be seen by the fact that there have been downturns for businesses (reported by Burrow Bar and other venues across the country in recent months), after they reopen, despite being declared safe by health authorities.

Countless more examples are seen in how news of these cases is distributed, with coverage often seeming to implicate a fault of the venue. The nature of social media means that any slight hint of this fuels toxic comment sections that spread further misinformation. Tran and McDonough used the word ‘tarnished’ to describe how this felt.

“The coverage is pretty misleading in how it’s presented and the implication that we somehow had tacit knowledge, operated with insignificant care, or that one of us was knowingly working whilst infected is what many take away from it. No one realised we didn’t need to close, or even have a cleaner through!

“The team may feel differently on an individual level, but we believe they all know we are doing things as well as anyone and better than most and take our social responsibility incredibly seriously.”

Going through this whole situation, Tran and McDonough said they: “wouldn’t wish this experience on another soul regardless of their sins.”

They described how they learnt a lot about themselves throughout the situation, which revealed that you can do everything right, but in the end you are “beholden to the best behaviour of the drinking public.” After all, the patron that caused all of this had apparently attended several venues that same night, and it’s unclear whether they had symptoms.

Tran and McDonough also have some tips for other venues about how they can prepare for the worst, noting how easy it was to work with the government to quickly navigate the situation without panic.

“It sounds kinda obvious, but play like a boy scout and be prepared. We had everything, and still it took us a few hours to gather it all due to how things came together. Make sure you have scanned your covid safe plan, have an accurate, up-to-date and to-scale floor plan and layout with accompanying photos and you can grab your customer register quickly. Make sure these are online and ready to go because you don’t know where you will be when you get the call and if you can even get into the venue to do it once they have”, they said.

“Run through how you would do it with the entire management team so everyone understands their responsibility should it fall upon them. Don’t panic and dash off to get tested straight away – unless they tell you to obviously – as once you are tested you go straight into isolation and this could impact how fast you can get the information the authorities need to trace and tackle contagion.”

For all the latest bar news, subscribe to the weekly Bars and Clubs newsletter.