Racer Dining employee discusses effects of COVID-19 outbreak

Steak 'n Shake temporarily closes after four employees contract COVID-19. (Sam Stewart/The News)

Gage Johnson



Dining locations at Murray State have been recently closed by Racer Dining because of multiple positive COVID-19 tests among employees.

This was reported to The News by an employee who wishes to remain anonymous and who also said Racer Dining has put them in a peculiar situation that is unfair.

The week of Oct. 25, Steak ‘n Shake was closed in the Thoroughbred Room after two employees tested positive for COVID-19 in two separate T-Room venues. Racer Dining immediately contacted its employees over the course of the next day.

The anonymous employee was alerted on Oct. 26 that she had been exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. She said she was told that she would have to take two weeks off without pay during this time, even if she tested negative.

“I was like ‘this is the job I use to buy groceries with, pay part of my bills, so I can’t go two weeks without pay,’” she said. “And unemployment is not an option because I’m not a full-timer, I’m a student worker, so even if I tried to apply for it I wouldn’t get approved for it within the two weeks off.”

The Steak ‘n Shake location has since reopened. She said the exact situation happened at Chick-fil-A earlier in the semester when the location also temporarily  closed.

She said she was told by Cristy Vitale, a retail manager for Racer Dining, that Sodexo couldn’t do anything for her and that she and any other employees would not be paid for the time off unless they tested positive for COVID.

“Everyone’s just kind of upset and we don’t feel like it should be a legal thing to happen to be forced off for those two weeks,” she said. “And a lot of people are scared that it’s going to happen to them next before school gets out… I wasn’t expecting [this] so I didn’t have a plan in place to be shut down for two weeks and not being allowed to go back to work even if I provide a negative test.”

However, Jim Halcombe, general manager for Racer Dining, said students signed off on a COVID-19 policy when they returned to school.

“We have communicated our COVID-19 process to our employees and the community,” Halcombe said. “Employees signed off on a COVID-19 policy as they returned to work in August. We have held safety meetings to provide updates and reminders including an employee newsletter reminding them to follow procedures.”

Given that students don’t get paid vacation time like full-time employees, student workers do not have any other way to financially supplement their income  for those two weeks. 

There are a plethora of guidelines that employees must follow in order to help combat the spread of COVID-19.

Halcombe said Sodexo Dining and the University have taken additional precautions related to the pandemic as listed below which were communicated to students and the community via the Racer Dining website.

  • Requirement for employees to stay home if feeling ill or have symptoms
  • Signage reminding of handwashing procedures
  • Additional hand sanitizing stations in each dining location
  • Mask requirement for staff and guests
  • Floor signage to show 6’ social distancing
  • To-Go opportunities expanded (number of to-go meals for the week not limited)
  • Major locations with seating (Winslow and Thoroughbred Room food court) close for 30 minutes between meal periods so our staff has an opportunity to deep clean and sanitize the facility
  • Additional seating added to enable social distancing
  • All cups and silverware are disposable
  • All self-serve stations are now operated by an attendant
  • Contact-free transactions with newly designed Racer Card; mobile ordering with Grubhub (retail) and Bite for Universities (resident dining)

The anonymous employee said to her knowledge everyone is following these guidelines, but anything can happen.

“Everyone has been wearing a mask to my knowledge when I work,” she said. “We don’t really take it off unless we’re eating away from someone and things like that. They do tell us to keep our hands washed and try to keep us distanced within a working venue, but things happen.”

She recognized that these measures are safe, but no compensation for those workers who must take off she said is unfair. 

The employee did express one additional concern, that being the rotation of employees from location to location across campus by Racer Dining.

“It’s not like they’re keeping students in one venue and at a set schedule,” she said. “I personally started in Einstein Bagels, then because campus was so slow I moved to Subconnection and I also work in Market 22 and Fast Track and I’m with all other employees.”

Despite the protocols Halcombe said are in place, the employee feels as though Racer Dining won’t be as careful as they should after employees return from quarantine.

“After the two weeks I don’t think they’re going to ask any questions,” she said. “I was told yesterday that they were not going to provide any testing for us and that it was all on our own to go get tested, which is fine because it is free for Murray for now, but they’re not doing anything other than taking the precautions of putting us all off for two weeks.”

Halcombe said safety is Racer Dining’s number one priority and that there are avenues of testing available employees.

“Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our employees, the students, faculty, staff and visitors of Murray State University,” Halcombe said. “We are aware of four employees who tested positive for COVID-19 and we are following guidelines and protocols for reporting and contact tracing while working closely with the University to continue to monitor and provide support.  Employees have access to testing through Murray State University Health Services and the Calloway County Health Department.” 

The News will keep its readers updated as the story develops. Stay tuned to The News’ social media pages on Twitter and Facebook for future updates.