When Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a temporary closure of all restaurant dining rooms on March 17, Levi Goode, president of Goode Co. restaurants, wanted to know what he could do to help staff members during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He reached out to an old friend, Dr. Toby Hamilton of Houston-based primary and urgent care micro-clinic operator Hamilton Health Box, and the two worked out a deal to provide free COVID-19 testing all to Goode Co. employees.
"It gives us a baseline; if someone is not feeling well, they can take exploratory actions to further determine what their illness might be," Goode says. "That gives our staff members peace of mind that the person they're next to has also been tested and is negative for COVID."
Goode says Goode Co. pivoted to a take-out and delivery model and, because it wasn't economically feasible to keep all of payroll at that time, the company laid off workers after the March 17 stay-home order was issued.
"It was one of the toughest things I've ever done in my life," Goode says. At the same time, the company launched a grocery service that gave some folks jobs during the pandemic.
Once Gov. Greg Abbott announced dining rooms could re-open again (to a maximum capacity of 25 percent of its standard capacity), hiring began again. Testing started two weeks ago, and all employees are required to test for COVID-19 if they wish to return to work at or start work with Goode Co. (The company opened seven of its locations Monday.) Hamilton Health Box administers two tests—an antibody test and a PCR test—and will continue to monitor Goode Co. employees through the pandemic. Going forward, Hamilton Health Box will be used as a medical resources for employees.
Along with the testing, staff members are being checked for fevers and will be asked to answer a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention questionnaire. They're also wearing masks and sometimes shields, while acrylic glass has been installed in critical spots at some of the Goode Co. locations.
For Goode, the move to free testing, plus giving employees additional medical resources, is all about ensuring safety for both workers and guests. Going forward, there won't be a more important consideration for anyone working in the food and beverage industry.
"I think everybody has a different level of panic and questions around this pandemic," Goode says. "Our business is very much a public-facing business, encompassing a large cross-section of our city, and so by investing in this service—the testing and the ongoing monitoring of tests—we're ensuring peace of mind that people are safe and nobody is contracting the virus."