A Long Island City boutique hotel is touting its mandatory $35 on-site COVID-19 tests for visitors before they can dine or visit the hotel’s restaurant and rooftop pool lounge.
As the Ravel Hotel opened its Profundo pool lounge and new Greek restaurant Perivóli on June 25th, the hotel’s management announced their ballroom was converted into an on-site testing facility run by a New Jersey company using Abbott Laboratories’ quick result tests.
All patrons must submit proof of insurance and agree to be tested there before they can enter the premises, said Seth Levine, a co-owner of the hotel and executive chef of Perivóli, in a phone interview. Outside test results will not be accepted.
Levine said the testing creates “a safe haven” for guests at the hotel.
“We're able to create the safest place that you can go dine and enjoy outdoors and go to a pool (and) eat outside. You know, for us that was keeping our guests safe, keeping our staff safe, and their families and friends — to us that was a no-brainer,” Levine said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that Abbott Laboratories’ quick-result tests, which the company says can deliver results in as little as five minutes, may be unreliable.
On May 14th, the FDA issued a statement that the agency had received “15 adverse event reports about the Abbott ID NOW device that suggest some users are receiving inaccurate negative results.”
NBC News reported that “One small study by NYU Langone Health found that the test returned false negatives for nearly 50 percent of certain samples that a rival test had found to be positive. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.”
Levine said he believes the quick-result tests are very reliable — “99.5 percent accurate,” he claimed. In May, Abbott released a report that the company said shows "ID NOW COVID-19 test performance is ≥94.7% in positive agreement (sensitivity) and ≥98.6% negative agreement (specificity) when compared to two different lab-based PCR reference methods."
The test is $35 per customer with health insurance, or $51 without insurance. Levine said the fees are going straight to their medical partner Vestibular Diagnostics of Rochelle Park, New Jersey.
“Obviously, none of that goes to the house, you know, to us. That's all the doctor’s thing — he has eight doctors there and six nurse practitioners. There's huge costs involved in something like this,” Levine said. “It may not be for everyone, but you know that may be a small amount of money to pay for safety.”
Levine declined to name the specific doctors at Vestibular Diagnostics who are running the Ravel Hotel site.
Vestibular Diagnostics does not have a functioning website and an employee hung up when we called for comment Wednesday. Vestibular Diagnostics was contracted to perform testing in Paterson, New Jersey where in May local officials complained to the Paterson Times that the company overcharged lab fees “by 75 percent higher than what is set by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).”
Visitors to the hotel must take the COVID-19 test every time they come — even if they have taken a test there before, Levine said, adding that he and the restaurant staff get tested every day.
“We create a safe haven, every day, so that means I get tested every day. And my chefs get tested every day and the security guards... the full test, every single day, everyone,” he said.
Levine said the hotel was maintaining other safety guidelines — from six-foot distance between daybeds and tables, to limiting its 880-person lounge capacity to less than 300, to closing the spaces between the day and evening sessions for two hours of deep cleaning.
The hotel is also mandating wearing masks when not eating or drinking, though patrons can take their masks off if they’re seated at their own table or daybed.
Still, social media photos of Profundo show several guests in the pool area without masks.
Levine said mask policies should be enforced. “I haven't really seen the Instagram photos much, but you know I think that masks with water don't really mix — that is one of the issues. You know, once they get wet it's hard to breathe,” he said, and added: “The small ask of ‘can you wear your mask?’ is never really a problem for anyone. You know, the other amazing thing is we've had at least a couple thousand people come through our doors since we've been open, and we have had not one positive case.”