In Response To Coronavirus Fears, California Restaurant Checks Customers’ Temperatures At The Door

From The Mercury News

The bouncer at the door determined that Alex Yu was too hot-headed to be granted entrance. So Yu cooled his heels in the shade for a few minutes and tried again.

Second test, he scored a passing grade: 99 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sichuan Impression in Tustin, and its sister restaurants in Alhambra and West Los Angeles, may well be the first in the area to screen for the coronavirus.

At lunchtime Friday, March 6, manager Summer Guo stood at the ready with a thermometer to check each Tustin customer. Anything higher than 99.8 would mean a polite rejection.

Employees must undergo the brief physicals twice daily. All surfaces, including doorknobs and high chairs, are wiped with disinfectant throughout the day.

“We have family in China, so we understand the importance of doing everything we can to protect both our customers and our workers,” said co-owner Kelly Xiao. “Everybody has a responsibility to do what they can do.”

As of Friday, California had 69 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and one death. More than 300 people in the United States have contracted the illness, resulting in at least 15 deaths.

Worldwide, cases numbered more than 100,000, with about 3,500 deaths.

Yu and his girlfriend, Karen Liu, had arrived Friday morning at John Wayne Airport for spring break vacation. Both 19, he attends school in New York and she in Utah. On the way to their Airbnb, they scanned Yelp for a top-rated Chinese eatery. But when they arrived, Yu discovered he was not all that welcome – right away, at least.

“I wasn’t too worried,” Yu said. “I knew I just needed to rest a moment.”

Neither had ever encountered the procedure before.

“But it’s no problem at all compared to what people in China are going through,” Liu said. “My mother and little brother live in Shanghai. They haven’t gone outside in a month. My brother does all of his schoolwork on the computer.”

Sichuan Impression implemented the policy in late January, explaining in a notice posted at the door that “a healthy and safe dining environment” is a priority for “guests who come from all corners of the world.”

Temperatures are taken with a non-contact, infrared thermometer that registers body heat from a slight distance. Over the past six weeks, Xiao estimated, the Tustin location alone has scanned the foreheads of thousands of customers.

Only a few people have declined, Xiao said, arguing a violation of their privacy. Those who refuse are gently invited to exit. “Most say, ‘Sure, it’s for our own good,’” she added. And so far, the restaurant’s trusty thermometer has not caught a problem.

Employees wear rubber gloves. They started out donning faces masks, as well, but had to quit.

“Now there is a shortage of masks,” Xiao said. “We are holding on to the ones we still have in case things get more serious.”

Three generations of a North Tustin family sat around a table, Friday, enjoying heaping plates of kung pao chicken, fried rice and won ton soup. Yes, they agreed, they were a bit surprised by the rules of admission.

“Never seen that before,” said Mary Sanchez, there with her husband, two adult children and a grandson.

“But something like this was bound to happen, given all the jitters,” interjected her son, Joe Sanchez.

Seven-year-old Cameron Cornell proudly announced that he had passed muster. “You better have,” granddad Joseph Sanchez teased, “or we would’ve left you in the car.”

Joseph and Mary Sanchez recently cancelled an upcoming trip to visit a son who lives in Thailand.

“It’s all a big mess,” Mary Sanchez said.

Dine-in business is down about 30% at Sichuan Impression restaurants, Xiao said. That may be partly due to the decline in Chinese tourism, and partly attributable to a misplaced notion that people of Chinese descent are somehow more likely to carry the virus.

Helping to compensate for the loss, Xiao said, the restaurants have seen a robust uptick in delivery orders.

Personally, Xiao doesn’t let the coronavirus rule her life.

“I’m not buying a lot of toilet paper or anything like that,” she said. “I pay attention, but I’m not worried. Everything will be OK.”

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