Unclear if Delaware businesses will heed new testing guidance as they reopen
As the state struggles to reach its goal of 80,000 COVID-19 tests per month, it is encouraging some businesses to get employees tested regularly. It is unclear whether they will do so.
Long-term care facilities are required to test their staff weekly starting June 1. Now even businesses in industries considered at medium risk for the virus — like food service, poultry processing and cosmetology— should consider getting employees tested every four weeks, according to state guidance released Tuesday. Hospital workers and first responders should be tested at least once a month under the guidance.
“Talking to several businesses, they would like to open— which I totally support— but they want to make sure that they stay open,” said Division of Public Health (DPH) medical director Dr. Rick Hong.
Hong says DPH released the guidance to “help businesses make informed decisions” in their reopening.
Officials say businesses can take advantage of community testing events, or partner with health systems or private labs to arrange their own.
“We are relying on businesses to make that decision,” said Hong. “It is an operational decision. It’s not something we would want to be intimately involved in, but we are here as a resource for them.”
Terrone Warren owns BVD Barbershop in Wilmington. He says the salon is following requirements about face coverings, appointments and cleaning. But he does not foresee requiring employees get tested for the virus.
“It’d be hard to make an employee go get tested,” he said. “Because of what would happen if they don’t, they say no, they disagree. They’re all individuals, they’re grown adults. So it’d just be hard to implement that inside a barber salon, inside the atmosphere.”
Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, was not aware of the guidance. But she says she supports it.
“As we roll out these phases of reopening our economy, there has to be a level of comfort with workers coming back,” she said. "I think testing is a great thing, and it's something that we're seeing more and more restaurants take advantage of, now that there's more testing available."
"Let's face it," she added, "Just a few short weeks ago, there was not widespread testing, and there was not widespread testing that was free."
Leishman says she does not foresee many restaurants arranging their own testing events, but rather using free community testing events.
Ann D’Antonio, vice president of marketing and communications at Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic, said Saint Francis Healthcare is “not currently engaged with local businesses on their reopening or testing plans” and is focused instead on supporting community-based testing events. A spokesperson for ChristianaCare said the health system is also not currently working on any testing events with employers.
Hong of DPH says there is a possibility testing for businesses could be made mandatory at some point. But for now, he says the state trusts businesses to do “what’s right” for their staff and customers.
During his biweekly briefing Friday, Gov. John Carney admitted he does not know when the state will reach its goal of 80,000 tests per month.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge,” he said, “particularly as people maybe get complacent and think they don’t need to be tested. We’re going to make up for that, I think, in part with really intense testing on nursing care workers, on essential personnel and those on the front lines.”
Delaware Emergency Management Agency Director A.J. Schall said the state saw lagging demand at a recent testing event.
“Yesterday we had an event in western Kent County where we could have done over a thousand people. We had a little under 500 that actually showed up,” he said. “Just because we build it doesn’t mean they’re going to come.”
Schall said the state will need to be more “targeted” in the community testing locations it chooses.