Kevin Walker, CMC, Executive Chef of Ansley GC, was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. This is his story of waiting for his results.
“You have been exposed.”
I will never forget where I was when I heard those four words. Four words that have since kept me and my wife on edge for nearly a week. Four words that have kept me from sleeping and have me locked in the basement.
At Ansley Golf Club (Atlanta, Ga.), we were rolling right along. We were doing things right. We were being cautious. We were doing our best to protect the staff and the membership.
Phase One of our COVID-19 Plan went smoothly with no hitches. We didn’t move quickly. We let everything settle for two weeks. We made sure to keep our guard up. We had single rider carts. There were no rakes on the course nor was anyone removing pins.
Members were the only ones allowed on the tennis courts. There were no leagues and no foodservice.
Access to the fitness center was by reservation only and temperatures were taken at the door. Limited space was available.
The pool was open only for lap swim. There were no towels, no bathroom facilities, no food or drink service. Members could come, swim, then go home.
Shuttle service was only available for employees to and from the parking lot. Masks were mandated on the shuttle. Each shuttle was limited to three people and temperatures were taken before boarding. Hand sanitizer was available and mandated. Ditto for seat wipes.
Temperatures were taken again and then logged once a staff member stepped foot in the building at his or her designated department. Masks were mandated for all employees in the building.
Gone were the time clock with palm reading technology. All clocking in/out is now done through our payroll app on employees’ phones. Social distancing is practiced where and when possible. And all employee meals are made and prepackaged, then handed out by one person.
We were on track.
Our to go program was very successful—more so than we expected. Our numbers were equal to, if not better than, when the building was fully open.
The newly implemented “Turn Grill” was a raging success registering 200-250 covers daily and supplying a new revenue stream (at minimal cost) that adds immense value to the membership.
When we believed it was safe, we moved to Phase Two.
One Step Forward
Members were allowed to share carts. Guests were welcome. We still had no rakes and pins were to remain in place. Tennis mildly expanded. Fitness, too, and reservations were no longer needed.
The pool opened to reservations in two-hour windows, with 90 available slots. The pool deck was sanitized after every two-hour time slot. Temperatures were taken at check in and chairs were marked to promote social distancing.
The snack bar opened with pre-packaged salads and a limited menu. Seating in the Pavilion was limited and tables were sanitized after every use with tables plainly marked. There was still no in-house dining.
There was no shuttle nor clubhouse access either.
Phase Two went smoothly but the membership was getting antsy. They wanted to open. They wanted to use their club. They wanted to feel normal. I get it. We all want to feel normal.
We open the Ansley Room to limited reservations in two blocks with no valet. Members were asked to arrive no sooner than ten minutes prior to their reservation. Temperatures were taken at the door. Masks were “highly recommended,” but not mandatory.
Sanitizer dispensers are everywhere with tape marking distancing on the floor as well as plexiglass barriers. We did not allow parties larger than eight and only family units were set together. We seated every other table. We used disposable menus. We did not place salt, pepper, or sugar caddies on tables. Water was pre-poured and preset along with bread. All food runners wear gloves and change between each trip to the dining room. Separate runners are used for clearing. No glasses were refilled, rather new glasses are brought to the table.
We average 90-95 covers in both To-Go and Ansley Room.
Food is not returned to the kitchen. If there is a problem with the order, it is recooked from scratch.
Golf opens completely. Tennis goes back to normal, though there was still no food service for any leagues.
Pool, as well, is wide open with a limited menu.
Everything is going well. The Turn Grill is still wildly popular, though more so on Saturdays.
Then comes the weekend of July 4th. Ansley was pretty much wide open. We did a small grill on the pool patio. There was no buffet. We served hamburgers and hot dogs only. Both were prewrapped. Lettuce, tomato an onions were prewrapped as well. Orders were taken, put into a bag by a server along with any personal condiments, such as ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato and onions, if requested. There were no fireworks—only a D.J.
We have done everything right to this point. We have kept the staff safe. We have tried to keep the members safe. We have opened slowly and controlled everything we could control.
When the First Shoe Dropped
The week after the 4th started slowly, as is typical for Ansley. Shuttle service resumed for members and we were discussing expanding the pool menu as well as opening the 1912—our last dining room—on July 22nd. Private parties were beginning to book again, though we planned to keep them small and only for members.
Then, on Tuesday, July 7th, several front of house employees tested positive. We began testing anyone who these individuals might have come in contact with—both employees and members. We were still good. We isolated the contact points. These individuals are self-quarantining and we were still relatively under control. We instituted mandatory masks for members while inside the building, on the pool deck (if not eating or drinking) and in golf carts if being shared by non-family members.
Then, on Thursday, July 9th, an Ansley GC department head and this person’s spouse tested positive for COVID-19. Testing was immediately set-up for the thirty known employees this individual came in direct contact with—myself being one of them.
My test results were returned to me on Friday, July 10th. The test was inconclusive. My Sous Chef tested positive.
This pattern follows suit with most, though there have been a smattering of negatives. On Saturday, July 11th, there was an emergency executive board meeting followed by a department head Zoom call. We decided that those who tested positive or inconclusive were to quarantine.
As of Tuesday, July 14th, I am still quarantining in my basement, waiting for the phone to ring to tell me to either to stay down here for two more weeks or to return to the main floor of my home to some sense of normalcy with my wife and dogs.
While we test, Ansley’s leadership team has decided to close until the entire staff has been tested and the results are known. Testing was done on Monday, July 13th for all employees and significant others. It can take up to 48-hours to get the results.
On Monday, we had an afternoon department head Zoom meeting to discuss reopening options. But nothing can be decided until we know the results.
As chefs, we are used to being in control. This is how we like to be seen and from where we operate best. We give direction. We are the safety net and the calm in the storm. We steady the ship.
All of that control was thrown into turmoil with four little words: “You have been exposed.”
As a club, we have done, and will continue to do, everything right. Our Phase Four is now Phase One version 2.0. Once we know the extent of the exposure, we will formulate a new plan, a new direction and we will attack again.
In the meantime, my primary responsibility is to the safety of my family, the Ansley family, my team and their families. Whatever our way forward, whatever the test results, that responsibility will guide all my actions, first and foremost.
UPDATE AS OF 7/15/2020: Chef Walker and his wife, Betsy, both tested positive for COVID-19. They are asymptomatic at present and quarantining in their home.