Two Taco Bell workers in Grand Forks test positive for COVID-19

Taco Bell in Grand Forks (April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)
Taco Bell in Grand Forks (April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)

A pair of workers at a Grand Forks fast food restaurant tested positive for COVID-19 late last week.

Grand Forks Public Health staff confirmed that two people who tested positive on Friday for the disease, which is caused by coronavirus, listed a Taco Bell franchise on Washington Street as their place of employment. The restaurant temporarily closed last weekend.

"The contact tracing process began and we identified close contacts that should quarantine," said Debbie Swanson, the health department's director.

One of those workers is Tristin Rowan, a 21-year-old who said he was fired after he left in the middle of a shift while grappling with a 101-degree fever. Rowan said he began feeling sick -- a cough, congestion and difficulty breathing -- on April 22. He didn’t feel well enough to cover a shift on Friday, April 24, and asked to be excused from a lengthy scheduled shift on Sunday, April 26, to make time to head to an emergency room. Rowan said he didn’t hear back about the Sunday shift and assumed he was still on the hook for it.

After a few hours on the clock, Rowan said he texted the restaurant’s general manager to remind her of his request. He said she reminded him of a policy at the franchise that requires workers to have their shift covered if they can’t make it themselves.


“Policy is not policy when it comes to a literally killing virus and I’m dealing with food,” Rowan told the Herald. He said he walked out of the restaurant, where the general manager, Ann Mondry, was just arriving. He claims Mondry yelled at him and said he wouldn’t get his job back. Rowan told the Herald he stayed silent and walked to his nearby home. That shift was the only one he worked after he started feeling ill, Rowan added.

On Wednesday, April 29, Rowan said he was tested for COVID-19 at Altru Health System. He was told the test came back positive two days later.

When reached for comment on Tuesday, May 5, Mondry directed the Herald to Taco Bell’s public relations department, which did not return a request for comment that afternoon.

The Grand Forks Taco Bell sits on land owned by Columbia, Missouri-based CPD Enterprises. Cameron Dunafon, a longtime Columbia resident who builds and develops Taco Bell restaurants across the Midwest, is the company’s registered agent. He also referred the Herald to Taco Bell’s public relations line.

It’s not the first time a former employee said a health problem made them struggle with the franchise’s coverage policy: Raelynn Kenmille, 24, told the Herald she worked for two days in January with intense stomach pain because she couldn’t find a replacement. On the third day, she headed to the hospital instead of reporting to work. Kenmille said she found out she’d been fired while laying in a hospital bed.

Kenmille and Rowan both said they headed to their shift despite feeling sick because they worried they’d be fired if they didn’t. Rowan also said he showed up because he didn’t want to leave the restaurant short-staffed.

The city’s health department has the following recommendations for businesses during the pandemic, according Swanson: workers who report illness or symptoms of COVID-19 should not show up to work; employers should excuse employees who are ill; and businesses should follow all the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus guidelines, including frequently washing hands, wearing face masks and keeping employees and the public at least six feet away from one another.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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