Employees in the restaurant and grocery industries soon will be able to get free coronavirus testing after the Galveston City Council unanimously approved $443,000 in federal money for the program.
The testing is aimed at workers who interact with the public daily and is meant to reassure the workers and the customers who might be nervous about encountering people infected with the virus but not displaying symptoms.
The money comes from a federal allocation of $714,670 to assist people of low to moderate income during coronavirus pandemic.
The city is focusing on grocery store and restaurant workers because many of them have low- to moderate-income jobs that require they interact with the public, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
The University of Texas Medical Branch will administer the program and conduct the testing. Any positive results would be reported to the Galveston County Health District for quarantine orders and contact tracing, officials said.
The city’s role is to secure the money, Maxwell said. The city still is awaiting final approval from the federal government to launch the program, he said.
The program is voluntary, not mandatory, Maxwell said.
“The whole idea behind this is to get people tested that feel like they may have exposure,” Maxwell said.
The city expects it can run about 3,000 tests with money the city council approved Thursday, Maxwell said. Ideally, people could get tested repeatedly if they chose, he said.
If the city doesn’t spend all of federal money, it would consider opening the testing program to other industries or allocating the money to other programs, Maxwell said.
If the money runs out, the Sealy & Smith Foundation also has agreed to give the medical branch up to $300,000 to continue the program, officials said.
The city explored other uses for the money, such as grants to businesses, but rejected those ideas because the city could be held accountable if the businesses didn’t follow federal rules for using the money.
The $442,934 for testing comes from $714,670 in federal coronavirus aid. The city still has another $271,736 to spend, which it will use for mortgage assistance, contact tracing and housing homeless people who test positive, if needed, officials said.
Galveston also received $2.7 million from the Texas Division of Emergency Management through the Coronavirus Aid, Response and Economic Security Act to reimburse city costs such as personal protective equipment, materials and overtime, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
The city also received $4.7 million for Island Transit operations and $30,000 for Scholes International Airport, Barnett said.
Also, the Moody Foundation awarded the city grants totaling $250,000 for personal protective equipment and technology.