The Bronx restaurant where six persons came down with hepatitis A will remain closed for now.
But it will be for renovation work, said a spokesman for the New Hawaii Sea Restaurant in Westchester Square.
Nearly 2800 customers heeded the city Health Department’s warning, stopping by Lehman High School between Sept. 21-23 for a free hep A shot. Many others went to their own doctors.
Five patrons at the Asian-fusion restaurant one restaurant worker came down with the virus, with the health department putting out an alert to customers on Sept. 19 and ordering the restaurant closed.
The original source of the outbreak was a waiter at the restaurant, said a source.
With long lines stretched outside Lehman HS on E. Tremont Avenue, locals waited up to two hours as nurses converted the school’s lower level into a clinic, manning roughly twenty vaccination stations.
Some people waiting on line for vaccinations were angry that a seasoned restaurant was behind the outbreak, while others simply shrugged off what they deemed as hysteria.
“If only five people are infected out of thousands, then it’s no so bad,” said Susan Solimando of Throggs Neck, who ordered a wonton soup from the restaurant between Sept. 7th and 19th, considered the window of exposure.
On the flip side was Nadia Seemangal of Parkchester, a customer who visited the eatery twice for avocado and spring rolls when the virus broke.
“In general, I’m a germaphobe and I’m afraid of things like that,” said Seemangal, replaying the visits in her mind.
Exposure to hep A often involves consuming food and water contaminated with the HAV virus. Following an incubation period of four weeks, infected persons experience symptoms that include yellow skin/eyes, fatigue and diarrhea, according to health officials. While the disease is pegged as non-life threatening, there have been some rare instances where it can be lethal. There is no cure.
“This incident serves as an important reminder to always wash your hands thoroughly before handling food to prevent the spread of disease,” said DOH Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley in a statement.
After examining the restaurant, and with workers receiving vaccinations, DOH cleared New Hawaii Sea to once again open for business.
The owners, who fully cooperated with DOH, have kept the doors closed pending “modest renovation” work unrelated to the outbreak, said restaurant spokesman George Arzt. “Certainly they would not be allowed to open if the Health Department did not feel that it was safe,” he said, adding this is the first such incident the restaurant has ever experienced.
Lawsuits have not been filed, though Arzt maintains the owners aren’t even thinking about that.
“I think they’ll deal with whatever they have to deal with,” said Arzt. “For now they’re just looking forward to opening up the restaurant.”
A source close to the investigation said a waiter was the initial infected patient, although it’s unclear whether the waiter was aware he was a carrier.
DOH was tipped off about the presence of hep A on Sept. 19th, dispatching a two-man crew to 1475 Williasmbridge Rd. to collect samples that later confirmed the presence of an outbreak.
Inspectors were already familiar with New Hawaii Sea, having conducted numerous surprise inspections in the last two years, awarding an A during an unannounced visit on August 2011. It was later demoted to a B, where it currently stands.
But despite the grade, Seemangal and thousands of others continued to dine at New Hawaii Sea, ignoring the prominently hung grade.
“I really, really liked the sushi,” said Seemangal. “So I must’ve overlooked the B. Now that this happened I probably will look more into that.”
Jen Slesinski, an employee at Mercy College, was able to forgive, so long as the owners “do some serious couponing. ‘Buy one, get five free.’”