- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order last week easing COVID-19 safety requirements for restaurant workers. With this order, restaurant employees are no longer required to prove two negative COVID-19 tests before returning to work.
- Under a previous order, signed March 17, employees who tested positive for COVID-19 had to show two negative tests before returning to work. The new order puts the responsibility on restaurant owners to implement employee screening protocols based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, according to Newsweek.
- Per new CDC guidance, patients recovering from the virus can end quarantine 10 days after symptoms began — instead of a prior recommendation of 14 days — if they don't have a fever or new symptoms. The federal agency still advises that business owners should encourage employees to stay home if they are sick or have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.
Newsweek reports mixed feelings from Florida restaurant owners about this executive order. Some operators told the publication this is good news for employees wanting to return to work sooner to make money. However, there is also a possibility that this order could add even more pressure to employees to return when they’re not comfortable doing so — an issue that has persisted throughout the industry since the outbreak began. Other operators said they will hold to the original March orders to ensure stronger safety measures.
In an address in Miami on Friday, Gov. DeSantis said “the problem with demanding a negative test is these PCR tests will pick up just particles, so it could be dead virus,” and claimed that the CDC has yielded positive tests for up to 12 weeks, according to WSVN.com.
Though the National Restaurant Association has called for the U.S. government to prioritize testing of restaurant employees, that request has yet go anywhere. For now, the industry is navigating a COVID-19 testing process that has been disparate across markets. Some people have had to wait weeks to even receive their results, while others are having trouble getting tested at all. Last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tested positive just hours before testing negative.
All of this puts quite a bit of pressure on business owners trying to operate effectively, even if at just 50% capacity like Florida. Protocols such as daily temperature checks and frequent testing can be expensive for restaurant owners. One operator told Newsweek he has spent about $1,000 testing his employees so far.
Of course, restaurant owners are also tasked with making sure their customers feel safe, and that may be the biggest challenge of all. Research from late May shows that 66% of consumers aren’t quite ready to dine in yet, and some studies suggest a correlation between restaurant reopenings and spiking case numbers. JP Morgan analyzed 30 million Chase credit and debit cardholders and coronavirus case data and found that spending patterns at restaurants from a few weeks ago have “some power in predicting” spread, according to analyst Jesse Edgerton.
Transparency regarding how restaurants are keeping their employees safe will be key. Some Florida customers may feel more comfortable knowing employees have turned in two negative tests, for example, even though this is no longer required. For others, it may not matter — the trepidation to dine out exists regardless of how many safety precautions are put in place.