Cody restauranteurs sidelined by COVID

CODY — With her husband hospitalized in Billings because of the COVID-19 virus and their Cody Steakhouse restaurant temporarily closed, co-owner Julie Cocchia has changed her mind about the novel coronavirus.

“This is not going away,” she said. “People don’t really understand that.”

Her husband Frank Cocchia, 78, developed pneumonia as a result of the virus. Julie Cocchia said after Cody Regional Health checked his vitals he came back with a 102-degree fever. He was not admitted, so she took him to Billings.

She said he is now receiving heavy antibiotics and hydration, and seems to be improving.

The Cocchias initially had their employees wearing face masks but eventually dropped that requirement. Now, Julie Cocchia said she deeply regrets that decision, so much so that she said her business and others not complying deserve to be fined.

“I should get fined for not wearing masks in our own restaurant,” she said. “I don’t think the county is being tough enough.”

Under current health orders all restaurant and bar employees are required to wear masks right now, but many local businesses are not, health officers said.

There is no local punishment for businesses that do not follow the health orders.

The Cocchias shut down the Cody Steakhouse on July 3, missing out on one of the most lucrative business times of the year.

“But that could’ve been a good thing,” Julie Cocchia said.

She said only one of her employees, who worked in the kitchen, tested positive for the virus during the late June time frame, but an additional two employees tested positive who hadn’t worked at the restaurant for more than 10 days beforehand. All other employees tested negative.

She said she had to call the CRH back in order to get her test results.

Julie Cocchia, 55, also tested positive for the virus and was asymptomatic for all but four days. She described that time as “not very nice.”

“It’s not like the flu, it’s 10 times worse than the flu,” she said.

Cocchia would lay down for a short nap but not awaken for many hours. She found the fatigue “physically impossible” to work with.

“One day I was so tired I couldn’t move to get up, and fell asleep in my living room with all the lights on,” she said.

Cocchia had a 101.4 degree fever and experienced other debilitating symptoms such as diarrhea, dehydration, fatigue, chills, loss of smell and lack of taste. She found most foods to taste like cardboard.

“It comes all at once,” she said. “It doesn’t really creep, it just booms.”

She is now out of “COVID jail” as she refers to the 14-day quarantine period, and is cleared to return to work. She has changed her mind about face masks.

“I was a proponent of no face masks,” she said. “Now, I believe they are going to slow the curve.”

When the restaurant re-opens Thursday, Julie Cocchia plans to institute a face mask requirement for her employees, and is considering requiring customers to wear them too, a requirement seen in many higher- density cities and states.

The quantity of asymptomatic cases also concerns her.

“It’s tough, a really tough thing,” she said. “People don’t realize when they have it.”

It appears she would be the first Cody restaurant to mandate a face mask requirement upon customers. The Whole Foods Trading Company has regulated this, but provided free masks to customers in doing so. Walmart announced a nationwide requirement for customers to wear masks starting July 20.

“Soon as they get to their table they can take it (mask) off but when they go to the bathroom they have to put it back on,” Cocchia said. “I don’t know how that would go over in Cody. We may not be able to do it if we want to keep the restaurant open.”