In-N-Out Burger claims the distinction of having the second highest number of employees infected with the coronavirus COVID-19 in El Paso County, with the exception of nursing care facilities, but yet keeps its doors open.
(The business with the highest number of infections is Jabil Healthcare with 162. Jabil's website says the company manufactures orthopedic and neurological products for joint reconstruction, trauma, spine, sports medicine and other uses.)
We asked El Paso County Public Health to explain why at least 83 employees at In-N-Out can come down with the virus but the business is allowed to continue to serve food to drivethru and pickup customers unabated.
Public Health says it has not recommended the burger stand, at 1840 Democracy Point, be closed.
"Based on Public Health’s follow up and investigation, In-N-Out is adhering to frequent cleaning and disinfecting protocols, in addition to enacting employee screenings, exclusion of ill employees, and cohorting staff," Public Health said in an emailed statement. "Recommendations to temporarily close are given when transmission within the facility is identified and to allow for proper cleaning and disinfecting."
The agency added that officials are in touch with In-N-Out management to review new cases and check on safety procedures.
"We are continually reassessing the situation to determine if there needs to be any changes to our current recommendation," it said.
Asked whether any customers have been infected, Public Health said:
"The first priority in any outbreak investigation is to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to staff and guests of a facility. This includes identifying who was exposed to positive cases and ensuring that they are quarantined away from work. If they become ill while they are in quarantine, they will be counted towards the facility’s outbreak total. If a business is able to continue operating safely after all exposed staff have been removed, Public Health typically does not recommend closure.
"In addition to removing staff that may become ill with COVID-19, fast food business models also present minimal risk to customers. Interactions are short and the industry has put additional precautions in place to prevent COVID-19 transmission. At this time, no customers of In-N-Out have been identified as COVID-19 cases linked to the outbreak."
The In-N-Out corporate phone number has a recorded message saying its two locations in Colorado, here and in Aurora, which also has had an outbreak, remain open, though there is no inside dining allowed.
Denny Warnick, In-N-Out vice president of operations, tells the Indy via email:
"We are experiencing a substantial improvement in the number of new COVID-19 cases occurring among our teams in Colorado. At this time, we have less than five active confirmed cases between our two locations, although we know that trends can change quickly. The remaining Associates who tested positive have already recovered, and are presently healthy and well. While we feel positive about the improvement, we are concerned when any member of our Associate family is affected. We continue to keep them in our prayers and we’ll also continue to take action to keep our teams as safe as possible.
"We are working closely with our public health agencies to review and confirm that the proactive steps we are taking are appropriate and effective in protecting our communities. This includes limiting the number of Associates and Customers indoors, using staffing “cohorts”, and responding quickly to identify and exclude from work anyone who has been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive.
"We remain committed to doing our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The actions that we will continue to take in our Colorado restaurants are guided by our commitment to protect the health and safety of our Customers and Associates."
State health officials also have found 62 cases at the In-N-Out Burger in Aurora, the Denver Post reported.
In other COVID-19 news, UCHealth issued a release saying it has provided the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to more than 32,000 people as well as second doses to an additional 1,000 health care workers statewide. UCHealth, which operates the city-owned Memorial Hospital system in Colorado Springs, began offering vaccines to people age 70 and older last week and "continues to vaccinate those in this group as quickly and as safely as possible."
Information about UCHealth’s vaccine distribution plan is available on its website here.