swan dive toronto

This is why one Toronto bar closed after a customer tested positive for COVID-19

A popular stylized "dive" bar in Toronto's west end has decided to close its doors not once, but twice over the past two weeks after learning that a customer had tested positive for COVID-19.

Here's the thing though: They didn't have to. Not by law. 

The owner of Swan Dive, an eclectic bar and restaurant in Toronto's hip Dundas West neighbourhood, announced on Sunday night that the establishment, which had voluntarily shut down a few days earlier, would remain closed until this Thursday, September 3.

"Yup, we've been closed a couple days and will be closed a few more," wrote owner Abra Shiner in a message posted to the bar's Facebook page.

"Last week a customer of ours messaged to say he had tested positive for COVID-19," she continued. "I shut us down, got all the staff and myself tested, the bar got a mega mega deep clean, I spent 36 hours (with a 7 hour break for sleep) calling people who may have come into contact with said customer and his partner..."

Shiner says she felt confident enough to reopen the bar on August 25, after all of the tests came back negative.

"I felt like 'ok, we're safe, let's open back up,' but two days later I got another one of those messages from one of the customers I'd contacted," she writes. "That was enough."

The bar shut down temporarily again on August 27.

"I closed the bar to keep my staff safe. To keep my customers safe. Because I got scared that [if] this could happen twice, what if it happened again?" wrote Shiner.

Out of concern for all involved, the business owner asked the City of Toronto to investigate the cases. What she learned was that the city treats customer infections a bit differently than those confirmed among employees at any given restaurant or bar.

"I asked the City to investigate the cases because I felt it was important," wrote Shiner. "No, they don't automatically investigate or close a place down unless a staff member is infected — I had to ask and I closed voluntarily."

According to the City of Toronto, business owners must tell the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) if they know an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 "due to exposure at the workplace."

The same rules do not exist for patrons, though businesses must provide recorded names and phone numbers for all customers to Toronto Public Health if asked for the purpose of contact tracing.

The provincial government's official guidelines for businesses in the restaurant and food services sector state similarly that owners who believe one of their workers may have or has tested positive for the viral disease should "conduct a risk assessment."

Based on what is found, ministry inspectors may then require an employer to shut down the job site while affected workplace areas and equipment are disinfected.

Again, no rules pertain specifically to reports of individual customers with COVID-19, though the province says businesses may be asked to "implement other measures based on the advice of public health officials," which could mean anything, really.

As for Swan Dive, Shiner says staying open — even if the government says it's cool — isn't worth the risk for her.

"Sorry for the bother! But I think this needs to be taken seriously," she told customers on Facebook.

"So there ya have it: Long story long, I freaked out cuz I don't want to hurt people, I don't wanna make any one sick, I don't want to put my staff at risk... Love you guys, please be safe."

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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