Everyone in the industry knows COVID testing isn’t ideal: free testing results take days and rapid tests can be beyond the means of cash-strapped employees. Employers aren’t immune to the inadequacies of the situation, either; they may be required to pay staff or shut down business entirely while staff waits for results. Unsurprisingly, that’s led some operators to instruct employees who are feeling ill or showing symptons to head home and recuperate, but to not get tested.
Juan Padró, partner at Culinary Creative restaurant group, which owns spots in Denver and New Orleans, knows how quickly three to four days of shuttered doors with payroll still going out can put a restaurant upside down, especially since both he and his employees are tested every week. “The rapid tests help, but they’re expensive—$199 to $279 at the airport—and [results come back] everywhere from an hour to midnight the same day in some cases,” he said. “I wanted to do something quicker.”
So he teamed up with the folks at Nurture Wellness Center in Denver’s West Highland neighborhood and three weeks later opened Denver COVID Rapid Test, an appointment-only, drive-through clinic that returns results in 30 minutes. Padró credits his team’s ability to get the testing site open so quickly to “asking the smart guys and the street-smart guys and not overthinking it.” He recalls a few conversations with the Colorado Restaurant Association and governor’s staff but says, “I think once you get lawyers and government officials involved it’s just dead….Whenever you’re dealing with disasters and pandemics, morality has to trump the legal bullshit.”
He also acknowledges the reality of human behavior: “We have to have a practical approach. People are going to gather in groups of 10, groups of 20. Go get tested, have a negative test, and be comfortable. Testing should be part of the solution [to the pandemic].”
Dr. Erik Natkin of Denver’s R2 Medical Clinic provides medical oversight for Denver COVID Rapid Test, which charges $149 for the general public—though bar and restaurant employees get a significant discount. Through Sunday, January 3, the clinic is charging hospitality workers just $50 per test; after that date, they will pay $75. To claim the industry discount, says Padró, “DM me…on Instragram, Facebook, wherever; I’m easy to find.” He’ll send a form folks can fill out that entitles them to the reduced rate. There’s no limit to the number of discounted tests industry folks can receive and results are often back in half the promised time—15 minutes.
Padró also urges employers to pay for staff testing if they can afford it. “If you’re a restaurateur, you should pick up the tab for your kids,” he says. He believes reduced PPE costs and fewer closures as a result of consistent testing balance out the expense of covering employees’ tests.
Denver COVID Rapid Test is located at 2949 Federal Boulevard in Denver and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Visit Padró’s Instagram page (@jpad16) to request the industry rate, then visit the clinic’s website to schedule your appointment.