Independent restaurants can buy COVID-19 test kits from DoorDash for $100 for 25 tests.
DoorDash is partnering with Cellex, whose rapid tests provide results in about 15 minutes.
Restaurant owners told DoorDash that access to affordable, rapid tests is crucial to survival.
As New York City restaurants prepare to reopen indoor dining later this week, DoorDash announced Wednesday that it is providing independent restaurants on its platform access to discounted rapid COVID-19 tests that provide results in 15-20 minutes.
The No. 1 food delivery operator in the US said restaurants with three or fewer locations are eligible to pay $100 for 25 rapid tests by Cellex, whose tests are used by state agencies, military bases, and sports venues, DoorDash said.
Last year, the San Francisco-based delivery operator formed a Restaurant Advisory Council, aimed at learning the needs of the restaurant community during the pandemic. The group told DoorDash a few months ago that having access to affordable and rapid COVID-19 tests was crucial to maintaining operations during the health crisis.
"We're really proud of being able to offer this at a highly subsidized rate," said Mariah Ray, public policy and partnerships lead at DoorDash, told Insider.
Starting February 16, eligible independent restaurants can order a kit containing 25 tests for the aforementioned $100 price tag. DoorDash has secured about 1,100 kits at a bulk discount rate and is subsidizing the cost of each $100 kit purchased by restaurants as part of its five year, $200 million Main Street Strong Pledge program which supports local communities.
Experts say that frequent testing for the deadly coronavirus, or surveillance testing, can help identify asymptomatic people before they expose others to the coronavirus.
However, DoorDash said restaurants will likely be using the discounted kits to screen employees that they suspect might have been exposed.
Regardless, frequent testing can prove costly at a time when restaurants need every dime to survive.
Starbird Chicken CEO Aaron Noveshen, a member of DoorDash's initial advisory council, said he's paid $20,000 on COVID-19 testing to date.
Under DoorDash's new program, restaurants are limited to one kit at the $100 rate plus shipping. However, restaurant owners can buy additional kits at the negotiated bulk rate of $1,050. That's about $42 per test.
By comparison, Costco is selling individual at-home tests for about $130 each. Over the holidays, City Winery in New York City was paying $500 a day to offer free COVID-19 tests to customers who bought a case of wine, according to the New York Post. Prior to that, before indoor dining was shutdown again in mid-December, City Winery was requiring customers to take an on-site rapid COVID test in order to eat there in the middle of the week, according to Gothamist. The test cost $50.
Members of the restaurant council told DoorDash that they often have to shut down their restaurant while they wait for potentially exposed employees to get a nasal swab test. Those tests are more reliable but can take days to get results.
DoorDash does not reimburse Dashers, or gig drivers, for COVID-19 tests. However, throughout the pandemic the company said it has offered other forms of financial assistance to Dashers such as access to discounted virtual urgent care visits.
Jan Louise Jones, a professor of Hospitality and Tourism at the University of New Haven, told Insider that there is a "possibility that consumers may feel safer [going to a restaurant] with rapid testing and therefore more likely to visit a restaurant."
"However, the information provided so far about rapid testing has not been all that favorable in terms of accuracy," she said.
While rapid tests are not a substitute for a PCR nasal swab test, DoorDash's Ray said restaurant owners told them that having a cost-effective rapid COVID-19 test would give them "peace of mind" about keeping their doors open safely.
"In a concerted effort to protect our employees and customers, rapid antigen testing has been a lifesaver," Noveshen of Starbird Chicken said in a statement. "In today's environment, being able to keep your doors open even just one more day, means money back in your pocket to keep operations running for long term."
The restaurant industry closed 2020 down $240 billion in sales with roughly 110,000 eating and drinking establishments having closed long term or permanently due to the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association.
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