The coronavirus outbreak and its potential spread have become a concern as new cases are reported in this country and the news coverage increases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued some guidelines that may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, in non-healthcare settings.
For the general American public, such as workers in non-healthcare settings and where it is unlikely that work tasks create an increased risk of exposures to COVID-19, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low. However, putting these protocols in place to handle communicable illnesses common to school districts like influenza (flu), pertussis (whooping cough), strep throat, and more.
Below are a few helpful tips from the CDC that may help reduce the spread of contagious illnesses:
- Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees:
- Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
- Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
- Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
- Visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning:
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
- No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
- Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
As far as restaurant-specific advice goes, it is also a good idea that you:
- Don’t let sick employees handle food. Keep in mind that if an employee does get sick, most symptoms are as mild as a cold and they may not be aware that they are spreading the coronavirus. Ill employees can spread their germs in ways that could affect food for days or weeks into the future. While this is not technically a “food born illness”, it can endanger your customers and staff. Enlisting a policy that encourages sick employees to stay home and making it easy for them to swap shifts with coworkers will keep the illness contained.
- Require gloves be worn. According to WHO, in a growing number of cases, people without symptoms have infected others making it hard to tell who is capable of spreading coronavirus. To be safe, if tongs or other utensils are not provided to handle easily contaminated food items such as raw fruits and vegetables, deli meats and sandwiches, baked goods, and garnishes, then gloves should be worn.
Lastly, whether it’s the coronavirus, strep, or the common cold be prepared to cover your shifts by:
- Talking to your employees. Knowing who is eager for more hours and will come in on short notice is extremely helpful on days you find yourself in a pinch. The ability to get help quickly if someone calls in sick helps ease the fear that comes with the possibility being shorthanded on a busy shift.
- Providing employees some control. Often, someone needs to swap or drop shifts due to illness. Consider using software where employees can self-manage these activities in order to give employees empowerment and reduce the burden on managers.
- Cross training employees. Cross-train employees: It’s not always feasible to call in additional help when someone calls in or is sent home due to illness. Cross-training employees can help you avoid disappointing customers and keep things running smoothly even when shorthanded.
The coronavirus remains a situation with the potential to change rapidly, keep up-to-date with the latest updates from the CDC.