Starting in 2021, Philadelphia restaurant workers will have access to frequent and free COVID-19 testing at Rittenhouse’s year-old the Goat.
Prolific Philly pub owner Fergus Carey has donated use of his sprawling restaurant that currently remains closed at 1907 Sansom Street. Every Thursday starting January 7, the Goat will function as an indefinite testing site (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) for all Philly restaurant employees and their families, Save Philly Restaurants co-founder Nicole Marquis tells Eater. Mondays will likely join the mix soon after, and depending on demand, there could be free on-site testing daily.
“It will allow restaurants to keep employees and customers safe, quickly control an outbreak and get back to business if anyone on their teams does test positive, and save the restaurants thousands of dollars on testing when a COVID scare does occur,” says Marquis, who owns fast-casual chain HipCityVeg. “This is so essential until we all have a vaccine.”
Offering free testing to Philly’s tens of thousands of restaurant workers has been one of the coalition’s top pandemic-era action items during meetings and testimony before elected officials. The coalition, which includes 50 independent restaurateurs representing over 200 establishments, secured funding for the testing program from the federal CARES Act.
“After asking, begging and pleading for free rapid testing from our city, state, and federal government for our employees throughout the pandemic, Save Philly Restaurants has secured free weekly testing for all employees of the Philadelphia restaurant industry through our own research and legwork,” she says.
The Goat, which opened in January in the former Oh! Shea’s space, has sat dark since the shutdown started in March. The ideal testing site is centrally located, spans thousands of square feet, and sports two separate entrances to control traffic flow in and out.
“[Carey] feels like this is his sense of purpose — [COVID] has been hard for him, just like other owners who opened a few months before the shutdown. It’s uplifting on many fronts,” she says.
Every Philly hospitality worker is eligible for the complimentary COVID-19 tests, with no insurance required. Nasal PCR test results are texted within 48 hours. A nursing team will staff the site during testing days, accommodating a minimum of 75 and up to hundreds of tests a day provided by Ivee.
The state reported 11,084 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, just as restrictions on indoor dining hit the suburbs. Indoor dining in Philadelphia ceased in March, restarted in September at 25 percent capacity, then halted again last month through January as coronavirus cases fluctuate. Outdoor dining is currently limited to four-seat tables from the same household.
Last week, the coalition met with the deputy mayor’s office and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley to discuss ways to safely reboot indoor dining via CDC-recommended measures and equipment.
“We agree that operating restaurants as we did pre-pandemic is not safe now but we believe there are ways to do it well,” she says. “We are trying to avoid a restaurant mass extinction event and layoffs.”
The coalition also plans to soon meet with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) as a push to pass the Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act of 2020.
Philly’s struggling restaurant industry is also “desperate” for an additional wave of PPP funding to stay afloat, she adds. Democrats in the Pennsylvania state senate have proposed a $4 billion COVID-19 package that would allocate $300 million in business relief to bars and restaurants, reports Metro Philadelphia.