When you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself.
That was the logic that restaurateur Juan Padró used to launch a new Denver COVID Rapid Test clinic at 2949 Federal Boulevard. Padró, the founder of the Tap & Burger restaurant group and co-owner of Bar Dough, Ash'Kara, Señor Bear and several other establishments under the Culinary Creative umbrella, was looking for ways to keep his staff and customers safe while advocating for reopening restaurant dining rooms. "The driving factor for this was the need in the restaurant industry," he explains. "There's no reason why this can't be part of the solution to opening dining rooms.
Padró points out that standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) COVID tests at most facilities can take several days for results to return, and in the meantime, restaurants have to pay tested employees to stay home (if they're testing because they've been exposed or have shown symptoms); if enough employees were potentially exposed to COVID and are awaiting test results, it can shut down a restaurant for several days. "We test weekly in our restaurants, but the results were taking two to three days," the restaurateur says. "So we've had to close for several days every time there's a positive test."
With rapid antigen tests, results can be ready in as little as thirty minutes, so large groups of people can be tested and ready to get back to work (or go home) in a short period. In cases where there's a positive test, everyone who came in contact with that person can be quickly tested, too.
Padró says he speaks with Governor Jared Polis frequently about the pandemic and the situation restaurants have been put in. While he agrees that the state has done an excellent job in trying to maintain public health and safety, he felt that there was too much lecturing about staying isolated and not enough action to deal with the reality of human behavior. "We need to accept the fact that people are going to get together," he states, noting that rapid testing is a good way to make sure people are minimizing risks while gathering in groups, whether at home or in restaurants. "It really is just common sense."
After attempting to work with other organizations to launch an industry-oriented testing center with little success, Padró took matters into his own hands. "We got access to a really good-quality test, and we got it turned around in about three weeks," he says.
The restaurateur, who has previously been active in hurricane relief in Puerto Rico (where his family is from), funded the opening of the clinic himself and partnered with Nurture, which bills itself as a "wellcare marketplace," for the clinic's location on Federal Boulevard. Nurture was co-founded by Peter Strauss, Dr. Nicole Dority and Kelly Campbell, who worked for Padró for six years, and the center is putting together immunity kits (with immune system-boosting foods and supplements) to help support the health and wellness of people coming by for COVID tests. Padró says the clinic also hired a staff of about twenty nurses, managers and other health-care professionals to run the clinic.
Denver COVID Rapid Test is now open to the general public from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays; tests cost $149, but there's a significant discount for restaurant-industry workers who contact the clinic in advance. All tests are by appointment; you can sign up for drive-thru service on the clinic's website.
Padró says that the clinic should be just one of many set up around the metro area to help make it possible for people to get back to their normal lives — and to stop making the the restaurant industry the scapegoat for the spread of the coronavirus.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.