The rise in new local COVID-19 positive cases and the risk of potential exposure has forced several area restaurants to voluntarily close their doors over the next several days.

Nina P's Cafe, Luna Bar and Grill and OB's Bar and Grill recently posted on Facebook that they are closing temporarily to protect the safety of their employees and customers.

Paulina Siebarth, owner of Nina P's Cafe, said the decision to temporarily close, starting after lunch on Thursday, was devastating, yet necessary to protect the health and safety of employees and customers.

"My daughter and I cried all night long," she said. "We just got staff retrained because we lost people after we first came back. We felt like we were just getting back on our feet."

Siebarth said she spoke to a server who attended a party last weekend and later went to two local bars. The employee said a person at the party later became ill and tested positive for COVID-19, while some people who went to the bars also tested positive.

"Of course, we panicked," Siebarth said. "We told her not to come to the restaurant."

Siebarth said a group text message was sent to other Nina P's employees to find out who else went to those locations that weekend. Those that had were told not to return to the restaurant until they got a negative COVID-19 test from a physician and a release form from a doctor.

"We felt like it was just too much of a risk to the public and customers," she said of keeping the restaurant open.

A post on the Luna Bar and Grill Facebook page stated the restaurant was being closed because COVID-19 "has touched too close to home with a few of our staff." Management at Luna could not be reached for comment on Friday.

"We have decided to close for the next few days to let everyone take care (of) their own situations and business," according to the post. "We are taking the needed precautions to assure the safety and well being of our great employees and our wonderful patrons."

The post also stated that Luna was "deeply sanitized Thursday evening by Southern Sanitation Solutions." It encouraged residents to "mask up" and socially distance themselves.

A Thursday post on the OB's Bar and Grill Facebook page stated they would close over the weekend because of the rise in COVID-19 cases.

"Although not mandatory, we want to do our part to slow the current spike," the post read.

Jason Holloway, owner of OBs, said the decision to close was made to protect the safety of employees and customers. He said all employees are being tested for COVID-19.

"We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem," he said.

Community transmission is to blame for the majority of increasing positive COVID-19 cases in Southwest Louisiana, Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, Region 5 Office of Public Health director, said on Friday. She said the public needs to keep practicing recommended steps to protect themselves from getting it, or spreading it to others.

"It is more important than ever to wash your hands and social distance," she said. "Large group events are high risk and not recommended in phase two. COVID is still in our community, and we all need to continue to take precautions."

Siebarth praised the employee who came forward about potentially being exposed to the virus. She said she isn't sure how long the restaurant will be closed.

"I think we're more scared now," Siebarth said. "We have a large demographic of customers, old and young, that frequent us. We want to protect everybody."

Siebarth said other local restaurant owners have reached out to give support and voice similar concerns of COVID-19 spreading.

"Many are starting to hear similar stories," Siebarth said. "I pray that it doesn't happen to them."

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