Update: Additional cases of COVID-19 been reported in the United States, including reports of deaths from the disease, since this article was first published. Operators and managers should contact their local health departments for information, advisories, and guidance for best practices in combating the spread of COVID-19 to protect their staffs, guests and community.
Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first possible "community spread" of coronavirus in the United States.
A case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in a resident of Solano County in California. The patient is being treated in Sacramento.
According to the CDC, nothing about the patient's travel history currently seems relevant to their infection. The same goes for their contact with another infected person.
While we await more information regarding this confirmed case, it's important for operators to do what they can to ensure the safety of themselves, their employees and their guests.
Operators and their staff members should be no strangers to disinfecting and cleaning a hospitality venue. While every state's health codes differ, we should all know that surfaces are to be sanitized and employees are to maintain a high standard of personal hygiene.
Make sure your staff knows how to use the cleaning chemicals you've chosen to keep on hand. This may seem simple but you know what they say about assumptions.
You and your staff must by familiar with the cleaning chemicals and health code requirements: intended area of use, frequency of use, and safe handling practices. If you want to get the best information possible, contact your cleaning chemical supplier and have them educate your staff on how to use their products.
Remember that there's a difference between "clean" and "sanitized." A clean surface or piece of equipment would pass a visible inspection. A sanitized surface or piece of equipment 99.9 percent free of bacteria.
A disciplined approach to maintaining a clean and sanitized bar, restaurant or nightclub falls in line with the CDC recommendation for preventing the spread of coronavirus (and other diseases): cleaning high-touch areas often.
If you work in hospitality (really, just about any industry), you should already know that you need to arrive to work clean. Staff members should wash their hands with antibacterial soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds before handling food and immediately after using a washroom, another practice also endorsed by the CDC for the prevention of spreading disease.
Like handling cleaning chemicals, staff members should receive mandatory training and documentation on personal hygiene.
Isolating Sick Employees
The results of a survey conducted by Accountemps in December of 2019 revealed that 90 percent of Americans go to work when they're sick. As you can imagine, this doesn't help prevent the spread of diseases that are airborne or spread by human contact.
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Operators should consider implementing a policy requiring sick staff members to stay home. Is this easier said than done? Yes. Many Americans don't have the luxury of paid sick days or health care. Unfortunately, until the CDC says otherwise, sending sick employees home immediately may need to become a mandatory practice.
Addressing Employee Fears
It's likely some of your employees are frightened, worrying about contracting COVID-19. Currently, the World Health Organization's stance, per their coronavirus (COVID-19) Q&A webpage, is that it's mainly those who have traveled to China, the very young, and the elderly who are at risk for developing serious effects.
Of course, hospitality professionals come into contact with people who travel all over the world. You and your employees likely have slightly higher risk for contracting COVID-19, as do other Americans who regularly come into contact with the general public.
With at least one confirmed case of community spreading in California, it's understandable and wise to be more aware of your surroundings and how you feel. Everyone should follow CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also a good idea.
- Avoid touching your face with unclean hands, particularly the eyes, nose and mouth.
- If you're going to cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth, preferably with a tissue that is immediately disposed of after use.
- High-touch areas should be kept clean, a task with which all hospitality professionals should be familiar.
Several news reports have noted that N95 masks (along with N99 and more expensive P95 versions) can prevent the spread of coronavirus. It's true that the CDC has recommended the use of N95 masks, and the stories of such masks selling out in stores across the country are likely accurate. However, the CDC has only advised medical professionals use the masks—no such advisory has been issued for the general public.
Medical professionals receive training to use these masks to ensure they fit properly. For the most part, the general public doesn't use masks very well. And they don't exactly say to bar or restaurant patrons, "Welcome! You're going to have a great time here," if a staff member is wearing one.
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For now, ensure your staff is trained on the use of cleaning chemicals, is adhering to health code cleaning and sanitizing requirements, coming to work clean in clean close, washing their hands properly, and staying home if sick.