Rapid Testing | Q & A with East Side Mario's

Q & A with East Side Mario’s Owner, Janet Macdonald

How long have you and the East Side Mario’s team been doing rapid testing?

Since May 3rd, around 45 days or so.

How did you get involved with the rapid testing program?

The rapid testing program was offered through Restaurants Canada, through Recipe Unlimited. We launched first in Ontario and then we jumped on board right away. We were excited to be able to offer this opportunity to our staff and our community, it just felt like the right thing to do.

Do you think it’s important for businesses to be doing rapid testing?

I think that it’s important that we are showing the community that we’re doing everything we can to keep them safe. We all want to get back to a regular world where we can live with COVID-19 and I think that it’s important to show that it is just small little steps, like rapid testing. It’s non-invasive and super easy. The staff were so ready to jump on board with it.

I think that it’s important for us to all step up. We always talk about stuff being local and encouraging people to go to local businesses; well, this is just one more thing that local businesses are doing to keep our community safe.

What do you think are the benefits of doing it in the workplace versus just encouraging employees to go to rapid testing sites?

For us, we want to make sure there’s minimal risk as possible to our guests and to our staff. So, this way, they come in a separate entrance and do their testing before they are even available to go to the floor. That way we know everybody is safe and we do it together. They’re not feeling necessarily the pressure that, you know, we’re forcing you to go and this is like, “hey let’s come to work, let’s be safe together, and let’s just do it.” Our staff have been so amazing. They were ready to just jump in and do it.

We can’t make it mandatory in the workplace, but it sounds like your staff has been keen to do it voluntarily?

Yes, it’s definitely not mandatory, but we presented it to everybody in a one-on-one session when we started to call people back after lockdown, and everybody has been very responsive. Now, if we have somebody that doesn’t want to do it then that’s okay too, because it’s their right and we can’t force them to do it. However, we’ve been so lucky that our staff is all ready to jump on board, support the community, and do what we need to do to keep themselves and each other safe.

You mentioned that they come in a separate entrance, can you describe that to me?

For us, we have a receiving door just to the right-hand side of our take out entrance. So, staff are coming in that entrance and then proceeding to the very back of the restaurant, which is traditionally where we had two staff washrooms. For now, we’ve converted one of those washrooms into their COVID testing centre. Everyone comes in and we do a COVID screening, which we’ve done for more than a year. Since the initial lockdown, they get their temperature taken, and we record that, and then they answer the question about symptoms and if they are not feeling well. Then we’ll proceed with the testing in that back area.

All of our employees have tested negative. We’re very lucky that nobody has tested positive and but this way they’re not like walking through and a chance to potentially spread the virus. That’s why we have a separate area. It’s very tight back there, but it’s been working pretty good so far.

Staff are completing their own tests?

Yes. A manager will be there with them to take their temperature and ask the questionnaire, then we put some of the solution into the vial and get them setup, but then they put it into a bag with their name and the date, set a timer, and then we just wait for the results. We record them and discard the test.

How does the test work?

First, you put a few drops of solution into this little test tube. Normally the manager would do this ahead of time. Once you put the solution into the test tool, it’s only good for two hours. So, if it was a shift change where we have a lot of people come in, we might pop a couple of these test tubes out, and add seven little drops.

We put the cap on it so that when the teammate comes in, it’s ready to go for them. Then they would get their nasal swab and their rapid test. Everybody would sanitize their hands, blow their nose, and then they tilt their head to 70 degrees and take the swab. Restaurants Canada reminded us that you’re “not digging for gold.” They’re essentially going to swab just inside their nose; you swish it around both nostrils, for 5 seconds, and then the nasal swab goes into the test tube. There’s a little bit of a perforated piece where it can just break off and drop it in.

Then, we open the test and you try to keep the test as flat as possible. It looks very similar to a small pregnancy test, where you have your test line and your control line, and then you just add 5 drops of the solution. It is a 15-minute test; however, we normally see results within two or three minutes. Then the teammates are ready to go to work.

Do you have them coming in 15 minutes early or is it considered the first 15 minutes of their shift?

We do have them coming in 15 minutes early, but we do pay them for that time. So, if normally they would be scheduled to come to work at four o’clock, then we would schedule them at 3:45 that way. It’s enough time to do their tests and then still get them into their role at the appropriate time.

Do you have regular days that you tend to schedule? Or is it just if they have two shifts a week?

It varies. We do it so not everybody is testing on the same day or at the same time. It really depends on volume and business, which days are busier, which days are less busy, you know? When we’re scheduling, we’ve built in that buffer for each teammate, so that they know at the beginning of the week, “I’m testing on Monday and on Thursday.”

Generally, you don’t want to do two days together, but for people that would only work on the weekend, like students things like that, then we would test them both days so that we can get that minimum threshold.

What’s your reporting structure? Where do you send your results?

We have an app. It lists all of our employees and there’s a section for the rapid test. So, you would select the employee and input that they tested negative. For us, that would then go to Recipe headquarters who supply that data to Health Canada.

It kind of keeps you a little bit more accountable because it has all their schedules built-in just to make sure you’re not missing anything.

Thank you, Janet!

Businesses with under 50 employees who are looking to register for workplace rapid testing are encouraged to sign up here. As of June 28, when this blog was published, there are just two remaining cohorts for the CDL Workplace Rapid Testing Consortium.