The Confusion of COVID-19 Protocols and Testing for Restaurant Workers in Reno

Eating out during a pandemic is an odd experience that many people have the opportunity to experience. Jesse Stone reports behind the scenes on what it’s like to work in food service and the sticky red tape behind COVID testing at bigger establishments.

Listen to full audio story above by Jesse Stone

Adapting as Best They Can

Customers six feet apart, having masks worn and encouraging orders to-go are the new staples of eating out in the COVID-19 era. When you work at a restaurant, you can watch these standards change in real time. One worker at a locally owned coffee house, Luke Nelson, says that customers are adapting.

“There was a time where we wouldn’t even have people sit in restaurant, and that was back in what, March, when things were really blowing up,” Nelson said. “Since we reopened, people are pretty relaxed about it now. They still wear their masks and everything, and they still sanitize their hands and socially distance, but they’re definitely more relaxed and accustomed to, you know, the new normal.”

Another worker at a larger, casino-owned restaurant, Daniel, says that requirements around COVID-19 have seemed to loosen up at his job as well. Both agree that although restrictions have become more lenient, most customers tend to follow state-mandated guidelines. Daniel said that the ones who worry him the most are the minority who struggle with the rules.

“The ones that stick out to me are the ones who don’t care,” Daniel said. “The ones who get real up close to you, really loud, and start demanding stuff. Instead of the, you know, more comfortable people who respect your distance, respect your space, and always put on their masks. So it’s the few that stick out to me the most that concern me.”

Last week, Daniel started to have some mild symptoms including lethargy, body aches and a small headache. He decided then to take some time off of work and get tested. His manager sent him a picture of a flyer hung on a door in their workspace, which promised free testing.

“The flyer says, COVID testing free for GSR Team members,” Daniel said. “Here’s the location, here’s the time, bring your GSR ID and a state ID. That’s it.”

Daniel headed to the hospital on the flyer before finding out there was a twist; not only did he have to register with the hospital before taking the test, but conditions applied to the supposedly free test.

Not Exactly as Simple as Advertised

“It was only a Covid test if you’re asymptomatic and already had the virus and are trying to return back to work. In that case, they got me there and didn’t tell me if I was supposed to pay or not pay. At the end of the day, I didn’t even take the test,” he said.

To clarify, to take a free test without paying, Daniel would need to test positive for COVID-19 at his primary health provider. Then, afterward, when he no longer had symptoms, Daniel would be allowed to go to the other hospital and take the test for COVID-19. Finally, after two weeks of consecutive negative tests specifically from the second hospital, he would be allowed to go back to work.

At the coffeehouse where Nelson works, the protocol is similar; however, he doesn’t need to get a test from a specific source. Stay home whenever sick, and if you test positive, quarantine for at least two weeks.

“They send you home, and wait until you get healthy, and only then do you get to come back. Even if you just have a cold or something, you’re still encouraged to still get a COVID test,” Nelson said.

Fortunately, Daniel received some much welcome news. The results came back from the test he received from his primary health provider: negative for COVID-19.

Reporting by Jesse Stone for the Reynolds Sandbox

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Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.