Reopening the city’s businesses, including restaurants, is still a distant future without several measures in place to properly track COVID-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a recent press briefing. Those measures include widespread testing capabilities and likely will include temperature checks at workplaces, the mayor says.
The temperature checks will “absolutely have a role to play” in reopening the city, de Blasio said in a daily press briefing on April 20. He added that other countries more experienced in containing the virus have already implemented temperature checks and testing for COVID-19 in the workplace. Some retailers in the U.S., like Walmart, have started requiring employees to do temperature checks and complete a basic health screening questionnaire every time they report to work. Starbucks has started sending thermometers to stores to allow employees to do voluntary checks, and Whole Foods conducts daily temperature checks with all of its employees.
“It’s a logical part of the equation and it fits with the testing,” de Blasio says. The city has to “constantly monitor for who might be sick” in order to ensure that “they don’t go back into the workplace until they are well.”
Eater has reached out for more information on whether the temperature checks will extend to customers at restaurants, as well. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has told the public that disposable menus and temperature checks at the door may become commonplace for the state’s restaurants.
If the city were to implement temperature checks, there would first need to be easy access to thermometers — an impossibility right now, the mayor acknowledges. Novel coronavirus testing itself has to ramp up, too. In general, NYC has to get to the point where it can perform “hundreds of thousands of tests per day,” de Blasio says. On average, 146,000 people are currently being tested daily across the U.S. for COVID-19, according to the New York Times.
If restaurants have to perform daily temperature checks on employees — and potentially customers as well — it will add a large operating expense to the business’s bottom line.
“Taking an employee’s temperature requires a thermometer — still hard to come by — and personal protective equipment, ideally a second or back-up thermometer, and then a designated manager who assists and records each employee’s temperature before they clock in,” says Roslyn Stone, the chief operating officer of restaurant health and sanitation consulting firm Zero Hour Health. “This will take additional staffing at a time when the industry can least afford it.”
Stone notes that one large chain that she spoke with recently projected national temperature-taking costs at $3 million annually.
The mayor says that the city will “put together details as we get closer” on what measures like workplace temperature checks will look like in practice.