The city of Galveston might start testing restaurant and grocery store workers with federal money it has received to assist coronavirus recovery and response among low-income populations.
It’d be another step on the road to understanding how the virus is spreading in the community and toward reassuring both residents and tourists as more businesses reopen, officials said.
City staff members Thursday will ask the Galveston City Council to approve about $443,000 to pay for testing of low-income hospitality workers, especially those in the restaurant and grocery store sectors, officials said.
The money comes from an allocation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, that’s dedicated to programs to support low-income people.
The federal government granted Galveston almost $715,000.
The idea is to test people whose jobs require interacting with the public, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
People in those industries typically have lower incomes and might not have access to healthcare, he said. The workers also interact with the public and visitors every day, he said.
“The biggest thing, for Galveston, to get us open and back on our feet is to get our tourist industry up and running,” Maxwell said.
As of Friday, a total of 58 COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in Galveston since testing began, 13 of which were active, according to Galveston County Health District data.
The testing would be free for workers interacting with the public on a daily basis, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
“We realize those areas are heavily traveled by local people and we want to give those local people as much comfort as possible,” Yarbrough said.
While testing someone one day doesn’t guarantee they won’t catch coronavirus the next, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to identify those few workers who might test positive, Yarbrough said.
“I wish we had enough money to test everybody every week,” Yarbrough said.
The University of Texas Medical Branch would administer the tests, officials said.
The funding would probably be enough to conduct between 2,500 and 3,000 tests, Deputy City Manager Dan Buckley said.
The hope is that people could get tested more than once with the funding, Buckley said.
“It’s certainly going to get the ball rolling for us,” Buckley said.
The Galveston County Health District conducted mass free testing from April 9 to May 8 and tested about 5,000 people county-wide.
A week and a half later, Galveston County announced it was partnering with the medical branch to offer free testing with $250,000 of the $2.4 million it got from Congress.
If the city council approves the funding, the city will then need to send its plan to the federal government for approval, Buckley said.
The Galveston City Council will meet Thursday.