Testing our Workers and Instilling Consumer Confidence

Dale J. Venturini
President/CEO, RI Hospitality Association

Despite Rhode Island’s COVID-19 case count recently beginning to drop to a more manageable rate of infection, there still seems to be a good deal of skepticism among consumers regarding the safety of in-person dining and lodging accommodations as it pertains to transmission of the virus. Although there is limited data that supports claims that restaurants and hotels are vectors of spread, especially in Rhode Island, restrictions on our industry continue to impact the bottom-line and have tied the hands of the thousands of hospitality workers who rely on our industry to provide for themselves and their families. So, in an effort to ease the minds of our more hesitant patrons and get people back to work, the RI Hospitality Association (RIHA) has partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) to develop a free employee-testing program for hospitality businesses, including restaurants, hotels and supply-chain businesses.

Through this partnership, RIHA’s members are now able to offer free, rapid BinaxNOW tests for COVID-19 – an antigen-based test that detects the virus in the earliest stages of infection when those infected are most contagious. The test is self-administered with a nasal swab and provides results within 15-30 minutes post-testing and offers the assurance of a less-than 1% false-positivity rate. Businesses that choose to participate will undergo remote training in how to properly administer tests and take all precautionary measures. It is completely up to the business to determine its own testing plan, including the frequency at which they would like to administer tests, whether that is daily, weekly, or bi-weekly. Testing results – positive, negative, inconclusive – are reported directly to RIDOH and any employees who test positive are sent home immediately, as well as anyone who is determined to be a “close contact.” The designated testing space will also frequently undergo a deep-cleaning and all waste will be discarded in RIDOH-provided biohazard bags.

To ensure the effectiveness of this program, one of our restaurant members conducted a pilot test prior to making it available to all members. Although that member’s employees were hesitant to participate at first, once they realized how easy the process was, they were much more receptive to the idea of testing, with some even going as far as bringing in family members to be tested, too.

We are grateful to our partners at RIDOH for working with us to ensure that this program runs smoothly and has our members’ best interests in mind. Based on our suggestions, RIDOH made significant changes to the required Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to protect these businesses from liability.

We are hopeful that as more hospitality businesses implement employee-testing and the public becomes more aware that testing is ongoing, consumers will be less hesitant to visit our restaurants for in-person dining, and will be more open to staying in our hotels. Throughout the pandemic, Rhode Island’s hospitality industry has instituted best practices and has been an active, vocal proponent of implementing all necessary restrictions to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of our customers and employees above all. This testing program is another example of our industry’s willingness to take the steps necessary to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for our patrons and to instill a greater sense of confidence with our patrons.

RIHA will continue to work closely with RIDOH and the state of Rhode Island in an effort to both increase consumer confidence and lessen the burden imparted upon our industry as long as the pandemic poses a threat to public safety. We will exhaust all avenues necessary to bring relief to our industry, its workers and our community.