Public Health – Seattle & King County shut down Duke’s Seafood on Alki Beach on Wednesday morning as a safety precaution after seven employees at the popular West Seattle hangout tested positive for the coronavirus in the past two weeks, management confirmed.

A source told The Seattle Times that two employees at its branches in Bellevue and Tacoma also tested positive.

Duke’s management released a statement Wednesday saying “team members at three locations alerted us to exposure to COVID-19 outside of the restaurant over the past few weeks. Each subsequently tested positive. When we learned of their exposures, we worked to contain it, evaluated each situation, informed all company team members, alerted the health department, and notified our guests through a variety of channels. In each case, we closed these stores for cleaning and to allow time for team members to be tested.”

Health officials who inspected Duke’s restaurant could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, but the county health department released a statement late Wednesday afternoon saying Duke’s on Alki was “closed due to an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 among employees, the potential for workplace and employee transmission, and for non-compliance with Washington’s Safe Start Plan.”

Health officials did not specify what part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan the restaurant had run afoul of.

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Two employees at the Duke’s on Alki spoke to The Seattle Times over the past five days expressing concern that management has put the bottom line before the safety of their employees.

Both servers requested anonymity because they fear losing their jobs.

One server said they worked at least 20 lunch and dinner shifts in which management aggressively pushed to have every table (almost 40 tables indoors, along the sidewalk and on the patio) filled despite the governor’s mandate that seating under guidelines for opening in the second phase of the governor’s plan could not exceed 50% capacity.

The server also sent The Seattle Times a cellphone photo that shows Duke’s outdoor deck filled with several parties of diners not seated 6 feet apart from one another as mandated under the state’s reopening plan. That server told The Seattle Times that management even added more seating on its patio, prime real estate with a beach view, to squeeze in more diners.

Inslee’s reopening guidelines have also stated that dining parties have to be capped at five people. But according to one server at the Alki location, this was a rule Duke’s management repeatedly violated by allowing seating of six or more diners and said that in at least one case, they seated “a party of 14.”

Duke’s spokesperson Cheryl Engstrom denied those allegations.

“Duke’s has followed the CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendation and the health department recommendation to the letter. Duke’s put the safety of their employees and their guests above everything else,” Engstrom said.

The tension between several servers and management continued to build up as more workers at the chain have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. One server said a colleague at the Alki location tested positive on June 24 but that management did not inform the staff of those results until a day and a half later. In the meantime, it was business as usual, the server said.

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Duke’s management refuted that allegation, saying the server did not test positive until June 26 and the staff was told immediately and that the restaurant also posted a notice on Facebook a day later to keep the public informed.

A server said many workers at Alki feared for their health after the first positive case and did not want to return to work immediately, but management pressured the staff to return.

In a memo to staff that was shared with The Seattle Times, a senior official with the chain made this plea.

“Hello once again Team Alki,

“I realize there is a lot of consternation at the moment regarding Covid and the recent positive case of one of our team members. I can fully understand the collective concern, and desire to take every precaution. And while I support each person’s decision, I must encourage you to listen to what is being told to us by the CDC. Those that do not have symptoms of Covid are not being encouraged to be tested at this time. Again, you are welcome to do what is in your heart, I support you either way. However, testing sites are suggesting you may be putting yourself more at risk if you get tested without symptoms, simply to [sic] due placing yourself around those that do have symptoms. At this time we have no reason to believe anyone else has been exposed or infected…”

Since that memo was issued, six other workers have tested positive, including the senior Duke’s official who wrote the memo.

Customers who ate at the Alki location “do not need to quarantine, but should monitor their health closely for any symptoms and get tested at any sign of COVID-like illness,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin in a statement on the health department’s website.