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California Recommends Priority COVID-19 Testing for Essential Restaurant Workers

California’s Department of Health wants essential workers tested regularly for coronavirus, whether they show symptoms or not

AltaMed Drive-Through COVID-19 Testing Photo by Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

During a Wednesday announcement, California’s Department of Public Health recommended that essential workers — including restaurants, food service workers, grocery workers, and delivery drivers — get tested regularly for coronavirus. Because these individuals come into regular contact with the public, state health officials recommend periodic testing for all essential workers, with or without symptoms.

The health department also recommends that essential workers are given priority access to testing, according to the Los Angeles Times. For Los Angeles, county leaders will be responsible for establishing guidelines on who will be tested locally, while following guidance from California’s health department.

Initially, coronavirus testing was limited to hospitalized patients and asymptomatic healthcare workers. Last week, guidelines broadened to workers in state nursing homes and prisons. The state’s priority testing guidelines for essential workers was announced the same day Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti declared that all county residents can receive a free COVID-19 test. On April 8, Mayor Garcetti required restaurants to wear protective masks. In early April, the Bay Area opened a center that provides free testing for all essential workers, including those in the food service industry.

According to officials, California’s new testing guidelines are designed to help monitor essential workers’ health and coronavirus infection levels, while helping the state determine when social distancing orders can be lifted.