A short-staffed Cronig’s Market reopened to the public Thursday morning after a coronavirus case cluster among employees caused the Island grocery store to close Friday afternoon of last week.

The store opened at 8 a.m. and will close at 6 p.m., according to a release on the store’s social media outlets. The market plans to operate with reduced hours through Friday and Saturday this week, owner Steve Bernier confirmed in an email Thursday. Store hours moving forward after the weekend have yet to be finalized.

Mr. Bernier, who was not present at the store during the re-opening, also tested positive for the virus on Thursday. “I feel crappy,” Mr. Bernier told the Gazette by phone Thursday evening. “It’s a roller-coaster ride…but we’ll get there eventually.”

The grocery had been closed since Friday, after three cases detected in employees at the end of last week prompted Mr. Bernier to shutter the business for the weekend — a decision that was endorsed but not required by health agents, who said at the time that the cases were not necessarily linked. By Sunday, the cluster had grown by six additional cases, pushing Mr. Bernier to the extend the closure an additional day.

On Monday, after a 10th employee tested positive, Mr. Bernier announced his decision to keep the market closed until Thursday morning as he worked with Island Board of Health to ensure all employees were tested.

Speaking to the Gazette by phone Thursday, Tisbury health agent Maura Valley said that 14 Cronig’s employees and four of their family members have now tested positive for the virus. The 14 positive employees is four more than the previously-reported 10.

Ms. Valley said that the employees tested positive earlier in the week, and that no employees were allowed to return to work unless they received a negative coronavirus test. All but two of the store’s 50-plus staff have received test results, Ms. Valley said Thursday.

Ms. Valley said that she agreed with the decision to reopen the store despite the increase in the number of employees who have tested positive.

“I was okay with the store opening today,” Ms. Valley said. “Under CDC and state guidance, grocery stores are considered an essential service. There was really no requirement that they close. It just seemed that was the most prudent decision as we started to see more and more cases come in.”

The recent closure comes on the heels of a recent two-week surge in virus cases Island-wide, and a challenging and unpredictable summer season for the essential business. Early in March, the grocery abridged its schedule, keeping the doors closed on Sundays. The store’s smaller up-Island location has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic.

Earlier this week, Mr. Bernier said staffing challenges have been one of the largest challenges for the store since the pandemic began. The cluster has exacerbated that issue, with even fewer employees available to clock shifts now that they are open. For Thursday’s reopening, Mr. Bernier said the store was staffed with only 10 employees instead of the usual 35 employees.

Ms. Valley expressed concern that the prolonged closure of Cronig’s — one of the Island’s few full-scale grocery stores — could lead to overcrowding at other markets. She added that state regulations regarding the isolation of close contacts also don’t apply because Cronig’s staff qualify as essential employees, although Mr. Bernier and Ms. Valley have taken the additional step to require a negative test for work.

“They’re bare bones down there,” Ms. Valley said. “I was very concerned with Cronig’s closed that having that one large grocery store on the Island closed would result in overcrowding in the other places and lead to exposure because people would be crowding together.”

Responding to questions from the Gazette regarding Cronig’s safety precautions, Ms. Valley said that there have been conversations with store managers about stepping up social distancing and mask-wearing, but she didn’t see improper health or safety practices at the store.

“That’s a tough one, because I do think, for the most part, Cronig’s has a good protocol in place,” Ms. Valley said. “Their employees seem to be good about wearing masks, and they are good about the markings, and people are good about the six-foot separation. What we’re seeing up front, they’re very good. We want to make sure that is happening to the back of the store, which is not in public view.”

On Thursday just before 8 a.m., as the store unlocked its doors, a small group of morning shoppers trickled into the parking lot. The morning customers were typical for Thursday mornings, customer desk employee Norma Blidgen said.

Inside the store, the early-bird customers roamed the aisles, following the one-way traffic signs pasted along the floor.

One customer, Rob Hammond, filled his cart for the first time since the store closed last week. Mr. Hammond, who shops consistently at Cronig’s, said he and his wife have been cooking from frozen foods in their fridge since the closure, supplementing their pantry with small items here and there.

“I’m definitely glad to be shopping here again,” said Mr. Hammond, who was also buying groceries for his mother-in-law. “Steve has done an amazing job getting us through this summer and now.”