Summit County to offer free rapid tests to small business employees, hoping to end quarantines sooner
Aim is to get employees back to work
Summit County health officials announced Tuesday they were launching a new program to help small businesses, offering free testing for employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 to reduce the time they need to stay home from work.
And for a business with only a handful of employees who often work together, one staff member testing positive could force it to shut its doors for up to 10 days.
A similar situation occurred at the Summit County Clerk’s Office just days before the 2020 election after one staffer was unwittingly exposed to someone with COVID-19.
The four members of the office were forced to quarantine while waiting to see if symptoms turned up, and three returned to work days later after testing negative for COVID-19, only then resuming their work of counting votes.
The county provided the tests in that situation, and is aiming to do the same for small businesses that find themselves in a similar position.
Summit County Deputy Health Director Phil Bondurant announced Tuesday the county had purchased thousands of rapid COVID-19 tests and will administer the tests, free of charge, to small business employees who need a negative test result to return to work.
He said it could be a meaningful difference for businesses that, in some cases, have struggled to hold on during the pandemic.
“There’s a sense if we can make it to mid to late spring, I mean in terms of managing these cases as we have so far, that light at the end of the tunnel is upon us,” Bondurant said.
The county plans to establish a hotline for businesses that have multiple employees quarantining, Bondurant said, and is planning to launch the program Jan. 4.
He said the county purchased 4,000 tests, spending upwards of $100,000 in federal coronavirus aid funds on the effort, and hopes the supply will last through the spring.
The aim is to help small businesses and not large, nationwide chains, Bondurant said.
The small business COVID testing program is not the only county-led effort to help small businesses withstand the pandemic this winter: Summit County recently announced a grant program to reimburse businesses for some of their COVID-related costs.
For businesses on the West Side, the grants would reimburse for expenses associated with developing or expanding outdoor business operations, like buying an outdoor heater or constructing an outdoor seating area.
On the East Side, businesses can be reimbursed for adding, retaining or contracting staff members, not including the business owner.
Summit County Economic Development Director Jeff Jones said the grants are capped at $2,500 and that around 10 businesses have applied so far. The total pool of money is around $100,000 and has been split equally between the eastern and western sides of the county.
The grants can offset up to 60% of an eligible cost, Jones indicated. If a business successfully applied to be reimbursed for a $1,000 heater, for example, the county would pay the business $600 and the business would provide the 40% local match, or $400.
The first round of grant applications are due by Dec. 27 and businesses can apply at summitcounty.org/1189/Rural-County-Grant.
The county program will alleviate the costs associated with procuring tests, but will also streamline the process for employees to receive the test at the same time, avoiding potential delays.
Bondurant said a business would call the hotline, explain the situation, and then likely make appointments for employees to receive rapid tests at the People’s Health Clinic. He said the county would also proactively reach out to businesses the program could help when they learn of exposures through contact tracing efforts.
An employee must quarantine for 10 days if they’re exposed to COVID-19, according to state guidelines, even if they don’t develop symptoms of the disease. They can shorten their quarantine to seven days by procuring a negative test result on the seventh day.
If a small retailer has three employees who worked together on a Saturday, and one later tests positive for COVID-19, the other two would have to wait seven full days from their last exposure to the infected employee before seeking a test. If their last shift together ended at 5 p.m., the other two would first be eligible for a test at 5:01 p.m. the next Saturday, according to the state COVID-19 business manual.
Without a negative result, they would have to wait 10 full days.
Bondurant said that, despite what some might think, the Health Department knows how hard the pandemic and the attendant local health regulations have hit local businesses.
“If testing gets employees to work sooner, and they can pay their bills and alleviate some of the other things … this is the least we can do to support the business community,” Bondurant said. “As we move forward to the spring and summer, this is our effort to make sure we can weather the winter storm of COVID.”
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