Gertrude’s Jazz Bar Closes Following Positive COVID-19 Test Among Staff

July 2, 2020, 6:42 PM HST (Updated July 2, 2020, 6:42 PM)
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PC: Gertrude’s Jazz Bar

Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kailua-Kona is closing its doors for two weeks after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Greg and Marlina Shirley, owners of Gertrude’s, made the decision Thursday out of an abundance of caution. Current public health guidelines in the state of Hawai‘i do not require a business to shut down for any length of time because an employee tests positive for coronavirus.

“We thought, to be on the safe side, it would be best to shut down for a couple of weeks,” Marlina said. “We’ve been following the rules, so this is a bummer.”

All of the roughly dozen employees at Gertrude’s have been tested for COVID-19 after a coworker came back positive for the virus on Tuesday. Greg and Marlina said those with knowledge of the situation believe the employee was infected by her mother, who is visiting from the mainland.

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So far, no other individuals associated with Gertrude’s have tested positive for coronavirus, though not every test result has been returned.

It was determined through contact tracing that two other Gertrude’s employees had close contact with the woman who tested positive for the virus, meaning they were within six feet of her for a period of at least 10 minutes without the protection of a face covering.

One of those employees has tested negative for COVID-19, while the other result is pending. The state Department of Health (DOH) has placed both individuals in quarantine as a preventative measure, the Shirleys said.

Marlina added that DOH gave Gertrude’s the all-clear to continue operations, but because COVID-19 testing isn’t 100% accurate, the owners didn’t feel remaining open was the responsible choice.

Gertrude’s is the first establishment in Kailua-Kona to close its doors voluntarily since Governor David Ige and Big Island Mayor Harry Kim lifted lockdown restrictions on restaurants and bars over the last several weeks. The 14-day closure was chosen because it’s the typical quarantine period for those who may have come into contact with the virus, Marlina said.

The Shirleys aren’t certain whether any future positive cases would prompt them to shut down again, as tourism is expected to return to Hawai‘i to at least some degree beginning in August when incoming arrivals can begin testing out of the mandated quarantine period by verifying a negative COVID-19 test result.

PC: Gertrude’s Jazz Bar

“It all depends on how long this lasts and if a vaccine becomes available,” Marlina said.

Public health isn’t the only consideration for businesses like Gertrude’s, as they navigate a future almost guaranteed to bring COVID-19 back through their doors.

“We have about a dozen people on staff,” Marlina said. “It’s a hard hit. Not to mention all the musicians that are canceled.”

The jazz bar is canceling a total of 18 musical performances set from Thursday through Sunday of this week, as well as Wednesday through Sunday of next week.

Shaun Barnes was scheduled to play a set at the venue next Friday as part of Ronnie V & The Family Band, but will now have to wait until Aug. 28 before returning to the stage there. She said she understands the decision to temporarily close, but was nevertheless disappointed upon receiving the news.

“Gertrude’s and countless other venues provide enormous benefits to the mental health of our community,” she said. “What is the long-term outlook for establishments that have to close down again? How long can they survive in this climate?”

Musical venues and other popular gathering spaces will undoubtedly face more coronavirus challenges ahead, but business will be impacted less if people continue to wear protective face coverings and observe social distancing protocol.

“I think wearing masks is critical,” Marlina said. “The close contact with people, you need to be really sure that they’re cleared because it’s such a domino effect.”

As travelers begin returning in larger numbers to Hawai‘i, the case study of Gertrude’s offers lessons to consider — namely that quarantine doesn’t help the way it should unless it’s total.

“If someone is having a relative visit from off-island, the person (they are coming to see) needs to distance from them, too,” Greg said. “I think everybody is getting complacent because we’ve had so few cases on this island. People are relaxing, things are opening. This is a good wakeup call.”

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter, and radio talk show personality covering college athletics in Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing, and his work as a sports columnist.

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