Angelica Rodriguez doesn’t speak English fluently. But, she says, she was clear in warning of trouble at her workplace because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Rodriguez said the only problem was getting someone high in the chain of command to listen.
Now, two assistant managers and two cooks at Applebee’s Grill and Bar in Santa Fe have tested positive for COVID-19.
Rodriguez and her husband, Juan Carpio, are the infected cooks.
Applebee’s, at 4246 Cerrillos Road, closed Saturday, a day after Rodriguez received her test result. Her husband and the other two workers were later diagnosed with COVID-19.
Applebee’s is undergoing professional cleaning to prepare for its reopening. The stricken workers are at home.
Rodriguez told of feeling sick and believing her symptoms matched those of people infected with COVID-19. On June 23, a Tuesday, she underwent testing for the disease.
She was awaiting the result Friday morning when her husband went to his shift at Applebee’s.
He said he did this under duress. Bosses told him to report to work, even though he had developed some of the symptoms his wife had.
“They wouldn’t excuse her husband from work unless she tested positive,” said a friend of Rodriguez, who helped her access the result.
Rodriguez phoned her husband about 10 a.m. Friday to tell him she had the disease. The restaurant higher-ups, though, wanted to a copy of the test result before they would let her husband go home.
Impersonating a hospital staff member, Rodriguez’s friend phoned restaurant managers to tell them the test result.
Provide a written copy, they said.
The friend then helped Rodriguez email the restaurant a copy of her test. Carpio headed home at that point.
Applebee’s did not address the number of infections or other particular problems at its Santa Fe restaurant. But Carl Wilson, director of operations at Apple American Group, an Applebee’s franchisee, emailed me his response to Carpio’s complaint that he had to work while sick:
“The health and safety of our team members and guests is our top priority,” Wilson stated. “We have strict and rigorous disinfection processes and health protocols in our restaurants, including health and temperature checks prior to each shift.
“Team Members and Managers are required to disclose any exposure or illness and are not allowed to work if they do not feel well. A few team members who worked last week and passed these health checks have since tested positive for COVID-19 and are in self-quarantine.
“Out of an abundance of caution we closed the restaurant to conduct a professional deep cleaning and disinfection and reached out to each team member who may have been exposed. We also contacted the health department and plan to follow their guidelines of allowing team members to return after a negative test result or completing a 14-day quarantine. We will look to reopen after taking all necessary precautions, and the restaurant will be operated only by team members who have tested negative or were not potentially exposed.”
Carpio’s account differs from Wilson’s in significant ways.
Carpio and his wife spoke to me with their 15-year-old son, Pablo, serving as interpreter.
“A manager was mad that [Carpio] didn’t want to work,” said Pablo, who also has tested positive for COVID-19.
Carpio said bosses told him to report to work and plan to wash his hands regularly.
He said Applebee’s checked his temperature, which was normal. But he told me he had a cough, a headache and pain in his legs. He said he was told to begin work anyway.
Rodriguez was upset enough about the restaurant’s treatment of her husband that she notified the Santa Fe Police Department.
“We can confirm that one of our officers was dispatched to the Applebee’s at 4246 Cerrillos Road on Friday, June 26, 2020,” said police spokesman Greg Gurulé. “The officer was responding to a report by the wife of an employee. The wife claimed she had tested positive for COVID and was concerned her husband was reportedly being told to go back to work at Applebee’s, even though his COVID test results were not back.”
Gurulé said the officer found Applebee’s using proper social distancing between the customer tables. Restaurant workers wore masks, and plastic shields were used in areas where food was being prepared.
“The Santa Fe Police Department has no authority regarding COVID restrictions other than assuring that masks are being worn,” Gurulé said. “The concerned citizen was referred to the New Mexico State Police for further action on her concern.”
State police did not respond Tuesday to my questions about whether they had looked into Rodriguez’s complaint.
Rodriguez and Carpio aren’t malcontents at odds with a new employer.
Carpio said he has worked at the Applebee’s in Santa Fe for almost 21 years and his wife for 17 years.
They no more sought a confrontation with the bosses than they wanted COVID-19. Now they have both.