07 Aug Jonathan Cartu Claims: Restaurant employees no longer need coronavirus tests to re…
Restaurant workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 could now be granted a speedier return to work, according to a new order issued Thursday by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Before, a restaurant employee who tested positive for the coronavirus had to show two consecutive negative test results before going back to their workplace. Now, employers can take a symptoms-based approach when it comes to determining whether a worker can safely return.
The decision, a small amendment to the governor’s original March 17 order, comes on the heels of new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which were updated last month to reflect new symptoms-based guidance for non-health care workplaces.
DeSantis had said previously that he planned on updating his original order, part of the state’s Phase 2 reopening plan, to reflect the new guidelines, although the language in Thursday’s amendment only applies to restaurants. The move comes as nationwide lags in testing have been reported and authorities are looking to move away from a testing-based strategy in addressing work-related COVID-19 outbreaks.
Under the new order, restaurants must “implement employee screening protocols pursuant to guidance developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” The amendment also removes stipulations that forbade restaurant employees that have traveled by air or have been on a cruise ship in the last 14 days to come back to work.
Current screening procedures from the CDC say employers should “actively encourage employees who are sick or have recently had a close contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home,” and that employees who have tested positive or are showing any COVID-19 symptoms should stay home and monitor their health. COVID-19 symptoms include a shortness of breath, fever, dry cough and fatigue, among others.
The new CDC guidelines, which are recommendations, not rules, also shorten the length of quarantine time. Patients recovering from COVID-19 can in most cases stop isolating 10 days after the first onset of symptoms, as long as they haven’t had a fever in more than 24 hours or are showing any other symptoms. A limited number of people with severe symptoms might need to be in isolation for up to 20 days, however, and should talk to their health care provider. The updated guidelines should help to curb the “unnecessary use” of the country’s strained lab testing resources, the CDC said.
For local restaurant employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, the relaxed guidelines could mean a faster return to work. For employers, it could signify less of a strain on the business in the long run.
Chris Ponte, who owns the Tampa restaurants On Swann and Olivia, said the development could be a significant help. The statewide lag in test results has kept some of his employees out for several weeks at a time, he said.
“I think that this would help us out a lot,” he said. “It would get the people out on the floor faster, while still being safe.”
Ponte closed Olivia in early July when three of his employees began showing symptoms. It took nearly three weeks to get the results back, during which the restaurant remained closed and underwent enhanced cleaning and sanitization measures.
Restaurants, which are currently allowed to seat at 50 percent capacity and must adhere to social distancing guidelines, are not required to disclose anything to the public or close when an employee tests positive.
At Olivia and On Swann, all employees must undergo daily health screenings, including temperature checks, before starting work and masks must be worn at all times.
Similar screening procedures are in place at Rooster & The Till, another restaurant that has reported COVID-19 exposures. Owner and chef Ferrell Alvarez took a different route in getting around testing lags, and had all of his employees tested at a nearby clinic that offers 20-minute results, he said.
It’s a costly method; Alvarez said his company has spent nearly $1,000 on testing so far. But he said Thursday’s amendment to the state’s guidelines won’t change his policies.
“For us, we’re still sticking to our same (routine),” he said. “Now that we’ve found a facility that can get you in and out in a day. We feel great about what we have in place.”