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Tennessee police are investigating after a member of a bachelorette party in Nashville allegedly deliberately coughed on a restaurant employee Saturday night as they were unhappy about coronavirus guidelines being enforced.
"It's, at its core, dehumanizing and extremely rude and not acceptable to do to anybody," restaurant co-owner Mikey Corona told BuzzFeed News. "This person should be held accountable for their actions, to know their action has a ripple effect."
After arriving at the Mockingbird restaurant in the trendy neighborhood of the Gulch, members of a 10-person bachelorette party were seated at two adjacent tables but began to move them together, violating the county's social distancing guidelines that require tables be placed 6 feet apart, with a maximum of six people at each.
When one of the guests told Corona that he was about to lose 10 paying customers, he told BuzzFeed News he replied, "That’s a risk we have to take. I can’t risk losing our license or get a citation or have other people see this and not feel safe with being in our restaurant."
The group then decided to leave after employees confronted them. As they left, Corona noticed about half of them weren't wearing masks.
One member of the party then held a hand up to the side of her face and coughed two to three times on the assistant general manager in a way that was "pretty animated and exaggerated," Corona said.
"Immediately I went directly toward her and went, ‘No. That is not okay. You just assaulted my employee,’" he said. "She looked at me, smirked, and kept walking."
“That is considered assault and we are not taking it lightly,” Corona wrote in a Facebook post in a group of other restaurant and hospitality workers in the Tennessee capital.
The assistant general manager filed a report with Nashville police soon after the incident, and the partygoer who allegedly coughed on them may be charged with assault. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department told BuzzFeed News the case is still active and being investigated as a simple assault.
In the Facebook post, Corona shared the name of the bachelorette party member whose name the reservation was under; that person said in a statement to NBC 15 that she had no involvement in the incident and that "the story is 95 percent false."
The employee who was coughed on has reportedly been self-isolating since the incident. She has been tested for COVID-19 and is awaiting results.
"We already are very strained because of the current situation. Taking a member of our salaried staff out — it’s like me losing my right hand trying to run operations. And that’s why we’re not taking this lightly," Corona said. "We’re going to have to work on making sure she feels safe again in her work environment."
On Tuesday, the state of Tennessee reported 1,805 new cases and 25 deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the state's death toll to 1,117 deaths, according to the Tennessean newspaper. Nashville — one of the country’s top destinations for bachelorette parties — reported 109 new cases and 4 deaths on Tuesday.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper ordered restaurants to close by 10 p.m. on July 24 to mitigate the virus's spread.
On Monday, Hayley Williams, a Nashville native and member of the pop punk band Paramore, pleaded on Instagram for tourists not to come to the city for their bachelorette party "in the middle of a fucking global pandemic."
“I’m sure you watch the news; if you know anything, you know that the numbers are skyrocketing pretty much everywhere. Nashville's no different. Our people are dying. Our local businesses are suffering," she said. "Please don’t come to Nashville. Plan your bachelorette party somewhere else this time."
Corona and restaurant co-owner Brian Riggenbach opened the Mockingbird in 2016. The year before, Riggenbach competed in an episode of Season 24 of the show Chopped on Food Network and won.
“It’s good to know we stick together when someone does wrong to us in the hospitality world and treats us less than human,” Corona wrote in the Facebook group of Nashville hospitality workers. “It’s in our hospitality DNA to turn the other cheek in these scenarios — but this was too far.”