Before Wednesday, if a Florida restaurant employee got sick with COVID-19, the state required that they produce two negative tests before returning to work.
But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines regarding restaurant employees three weeks ago. Now, Florida has changed its tune.
Per a new executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, restaurant employees who get sick with the highly contagious disease will no longer have to produce negative tests to return to work. Instead they will need to pass a screening for symptoms such as fever, loss of smell, loss of taste or shortness of breath.
The order rescinded a previous one that had spelled out that restaurant employees should stay home if they were showing symptoms, had been in contact with an infected person, had traveled through an airport or been on a cruise ship in the past 14 days or had been ill with the virus but hadn’t had two negative test results.
The latest order replaces those details with language saying the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation “shall ensure all restaurants implement employee screening protocols pursuant to guidance developed by [CDC].”
The order was vague as to what exact CDC recommendations the state must follow, and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation did not respond Thursday to requests for clarification.
At an appearance July 28th at AdventHealth Orlando, DeSantis said being an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19 shouldn’t keep someone from going back to a restaurant job.
“We knew that [the test] could catch a dead virus for a decent amount of time. CDC said that could be up to 12 weeks, an infection can be 12 weeks old,” he said. “Obviously, you’re no longer infectious. You don’t have the live virus. But it can pick up some of the dead virus in a PCR test. So, that obviously is not something that should keep someone out of work.”
The order signed Wednesday also quietly rescinded a previous order that required travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to isolate for 14 days upon arriving in Florida.
No matter the rule changes, some restaurant owners say they won’t relax their standards.
Joe’s Stone Crab has been paying for all employee testing and will continue to require testing to clear any employee who has previously contracted COVID-19, owner Stephen Sawitz said.
“I’m blessed to be able to afford to do it, and I’ll do everything I can to maintain super strict standards,” he said.
Sawitz said two weeks ago he met with employees again to go over the training they installed when restaurants were first allowed to reopen. He said employees are given new personal protection before every shift and are required to meet virtually with their physician and get tested if they feel symptoms.
“Whatever the new standards are, we’ll exceed them,” he said. “We’ll go above and beyond and I’m not doing this to pat myself on the back. We need to protect our employees.”
But testing, too, has had major flaws, said Joel White, the vice president for marketing for chef Michael Schwartz’s restaurant group. Schwartz’s restaurants have paid for one-day turnaround tests only to have employees waiting 3-4 days for results to clear them before coming back to work.
“It’s a massive problem, and it’s one of the biggest problems we’ve had as a state,” White said. “It’s really inefficient.”