Light shed on Kletz closure

During a pandemic, timing and strategy are crucial. One must not only discern the most probable avenues for viral transmission, but must also act quickly and efficiently in order to limit the spread should a case be confirmed. Public sporting arenas, living facilities, classrooms and places of business are all high-risk areas. Restaurants and dining areas are yet another hot spot, with food and drink being consumed by mask-less customers. One case among staff could lead to dozens of potential close contacts becoming infected. Thus, when a Kletz Market worker contracted COVID-19, employees of the college and Creative Dining Services had to act swiftly to prevent an outbreak.

The Kletz Market was closed from January 28 through the afternoon of February 2. This was in response to an employee’s self-reporting that they had developed symptoms of COVID-19. Having been in quarantine myself the first week due to close contact, and being fully aware of the boredom and anxiety that quarantine induces, it is commendable that this individual (whose name was kept confidential) chose to play it safe rather than risk transmission. 

The Anchor spoke with Bob Van Heukelom, the Director of Hospitality Operations for Creative Dining Services at Hope College, regarding the situation. His reply is listed below verbatim with minor edits for clarification, so as to best preserve the intent and delivery of his response.

The Anchor: “Could you briefly summarize what occurred that caused the Kletz Market to be temporarily closed? According to an email from Campus Health, it was due to COVID-19 protocol. Was there a suspected case among staff?”  

Mr. Van Heukelom: “We did have one employee who was feeling poorly at work and was sent home. This person did later test positive but is feeling much better now.”

Question: “On what day did the Kletz reopen? What were the policies and procedures enacted during the time it was closed?” 

Mr. Van Heukelom: “We re-opened the Kletz Market on Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 5:00 p.m. and have been open since, and we have been observing operations closely and making continual adjustments as needed. Our Johns Hopkins University certified contact tracing team identified employees considered to be close contacts and were quarantined. Out of an abundance of caution, it was decided to close the Kletz Market and follow through on our CDS-established protocol calling for complete sanitization of the entire Kletz Market. While the Kletz Market was closed (afternoon of Jan. 28 through the afternoon of Feb. 2), we took that time to analyze our current practices and make any necessary adjustments to reduce the risk of close contact. As a result of our analysis, we are moving the cashier stations and a food warmer to allow staff to spread out further and create space between them. We are still evaluating how we might reconfigure work stations and equipment for this purpose.”

Mr. Van Heukelom also had a number of other important notes regarding the operation of Kletz Market. “We are always refining our practices as we learn more about COVID-19 and how to operate more efficiently and safely,” he stated. “This includes student dining areas. We are using this situation at the Kletz Market to look at both Cook Hall and Phelps Hall through our lens of this new experience. Although this analysis was very affirming of our methods and practices, we did find a couple of areas where we could make improvements, which we did, right away.”

Mr. Van Heukelom continued, saying, “We have scaled back on the menu somewhat to reduce the number of employees needed to operate the Kletz Market for the time being. Students are following their normal traffic patterns and are utilizing the Kletz as before for Grab & Go, in-person service and using the GET mobile App for contactless order and pick-up. One way students can help us keep themselves and our staff safe is to download the GET Mobile App, which will allow them to order ahead for contactless pickup at the Kletz Market a short time later! All dining dollar purchases, including through the GET App, qualify for a 10% discount on menu prices.”

Finally, Mr. Van Heukelom offered practical steps that students can take to help keep Kletz operational: “Another area where students can help keep themselves and our staff safe is by respecting the space of others, including those that they are dining with, when standing in line to get their food and also when they sit in the dining room. The seating arrangement in the dining halls has been approved by our local health department. It is important that students not move chairs or tables from their approved positions. Our hope is that our population will stay healthy, which builds confidence in our relationship with our local health department. As long as we can prove that we can operate safely, the more freedom we may be given within the interpretation of the MDHHS mandates. We are asking students to partner with us to keep everyone safe and to increase the probability that mandated restrictions may be lifted. We can do this together!”

It is important to note that while Kletz was indeed closed briefly, there was no reduction in pay for employees, as they were compensated for time lost. Additionally, students who might otherwise have gone hungry or struggled to get food at reasonable hours during the closure were able to pay $6 for a full meal under extended dining hours at Phelps. This was part of the “More Time to Dine” program. 

As of the time that this article was published, the Kletz remains operating under normal hours, so students should feel safe to stop by and are encouraged to do so. 

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