Restaurants should look at disposable utensils for patrons and masks for servers, while retail shops have to decide if they’ll get rid of the dressing rooms and create more-generous return policies at the safest ways to reopen in a COVID-19 world.

The recommendations come from Parkview Hospital and the Allen County Department of Health during the Roadmap to a Healthy Reopening webinar series April 30. Advice was offered for the manufacturing, restaurant, retail and small businesses industries. Professional Services/Office, Personal Services/Real Estate and Religious Institutions webinars were held May 1 and one on Schools/Education was held May 4. Greater Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership are also sponsoring the series.

Parkview Health is the area’s largest employer, with more than 13,000 employees with 10 cafeterias on its properties and its own police force. Parkview Health has created Parkview Business Connect, a website with information and free services to connect with health experts. The website will evolve as Parkview finds out what businesses need.

Since March 19, Indiana has been under Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the new virus, which attacks the respiratory system. The virus has killed over 1,000 Hoosiers and over 230,000 people worldwide and is known to have infected 3.2 million in the world. Symptoms include fever, a dry cough and tiredness. Because no one has immunity and a vaccine is at least a year away, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that people stay 6 feet away from others if they leave home.

Holcomb ordered non-essential businesses to close and restaurants, bars and nightclubs to stop dine-in services. Only carryout and delivery food services are allowed. He also ordered hospitals to limit their services, so elective surgeries were canceled. Hospitals are now starting to resume some services and other industries are waiting for when they can get back to work. Governors in some states, including Georgia, have started to reopen businesses. Macy’s is reopening stores in some states, where it will require employees to have their temperatures taken and for clothes tried on by customers to be held for 24 hours before being put back onto racks, according to media reports.

COVID-19 has spread throughout the community, so there’s no way to determine exactly where a worker or customer contracted the virus. That means businesses must look at ways to halt the spread among their workforces, vendors and customers.

Dr. Jeffrey Boord, Parkview’s chief safety and quality officer, said the CDC asks businesses to look at ways to physically eliminate the spread of the virus, which can include holding virtual meetings and having employees work remotely. Engineering controls can include plastic shields between cashiers and customers and social distancing markers between customers.

The vast majority of antibody tests are “unreliable or inaccurate,” Boord said, so it’s “totally inappropriate” that businesses require them for an employee to return to work. Even nasal swab tests will have a high failure rate to detect the virus if they’re used in asymptomatic patients, so they also should not be used as a workplace detection device. Administrative controls can include cleaning personal workstations frequently and staggering work and break times. Finally, personal protective equipment must be used appropriately.

What companies should do, according to Dena Jacquay, Parkview chief community and human resources officer:

• Identify someone to be the workplace coordinator to collect all the changing information. Be sure that changes, such as requiring personal protection devices, are explained to employees.

• Make sure you have a return-to-work process for any employees coming back after the stay-at-home orders are lifted.

• Be flexible because the world has changed in the last 60 days, and that includes employees’ lives, Jacquay said.

With school closed, some may have children who are home doing digital learning. Those employees may not be able to work the same hours they previously did. Also, employees with underlying conditions may not be able to do the same jobs as before.

“Most everything needs to be edited and at least examined for how do we do this differently,” she said.

• Roles may also have changed. Athletic trainers not now in a schools working with student athletes are being used by Parkview on nursing units as backup support. “You may be asking employees to do things different than before; and that’s OK.”

• Decide whether you can phase back in your workforce. Decide who you can bring back and if there are those you can allow to keep working remotely.

• Also important is asking employees what they need, tweaking benefits to allow more workers access to those benefits, and paying attention to providing services for workers’ mental health as they deal with this great anxiety.

Dr. Mike Knipp addressed how to improve your customers’ experience while providing safety for both workers and customers. Signs that show extra steps the business is taking will alleviate customers’ fears. In restrooms, in addition to “Wash your hands” signs, move the trashcan closer to the door so the person has the paper towel in hand, use it to open the high-touch door handle and then can discard it when the door is open. Also, look at the own break room where vending machines and shared coffee machines might need to be removed.

A variety of employers are asking: Should I require my employees to wear a mask?

Boord said before requiring everyone to be masked — and he’s talking about non-medical not N95 respirator masks that should be reserved for health care workers — look at the physical, engineering and other controls first. Wearing a mask 8 hours a day may not be necessary like it might in a small kitchen in a restaurant where multiple people are working.

Another question often asked: Should I be doing temperature checks at the start of every shift?

As many as 50% of patients who’ve come to the emergency room don’t have a fever at the time of admittance but later develop it, so a fever is not a reliable symptom that every patient will have, Boord said.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently said medical exam, such as temperature checks, can be done by employers in the state of a pandemic, but the information must be documented, Knipp said. Make sure to get your company counsel’s advice if you are going to do temperature checks. You’ll need to follow privacy laws for where the information would be saved and who would have access to it.

You also must think through what supplies you need to do the health checks, which includes personal protective equipment for the person taking the checks whether touchless scanners or oral thermometers are used, he said. It would also be required of everyone, from the head of the business on down to new employees.

Other questions asked during the webinars:

Will buffets and salad bars be allowed at any time during the pandemic? How can we operate a buffet line or salad bar safely?: It’s not known what the governor’s orders will require or if the orders will follow what other states have already done, said Mindy Waldron, Allen County Department of Health department administrator. It could include allowing certain food establishments to reopen with safety barriers in place. However, many are not operating their self-service areas, such as salad bars, buffets and pop dispensers where patrons are all using the same utensils and touching the same buttons. Several local food establishments have said they do not plan to have these self-service areas when they initially reopen, Waldron said. “It is a risky-type operation to allow people to approach food and areas where people would commonly touch as they gather it. It is hard to monitor that.”

Is there a recommendation or preference for disposable vs. washable plates and flatware?: Disposable is preferred. Everything that a lot of people touch from sugar packet holders, salt-and-pepper shakers and ketchup bottles on tables should be reconsidered.

Do we anticipate any guidance on how many people in a room or how many people per square feet in a dining room?: Waldron said she has seen other states make widely varying recommendations such as limiting occupancy to 25% or 50% or having so many people were square feet. “But we have not heard anything definite, and until we do, it would be difficult to guess how we would apply that.”

How can people socially distance in spaces such as the YLNI farmers market?: Rope barriers, markers on the ground or floor to keep patrons 6 feet apart, limiting the number of customers inside at one time, putting up plastic barriers between cashiers and customers, or going to a no-cash payment system were suggested.

How to you recreate the space for your customers?: Shifting to an order-ahead, online sales or appointment-only system or limiting the number of customers in your retail space were suggested.

Do you require customers to wear a mask or allow them to try on clothes?: Asking customers to wear masks is certainly reasonable, given the CDC guidelines, Boord said. However, there’s no one solution. Cleaning high-touch areas should also be adopted. Frequent cleaning in fitting rooms would be an inconvenience to customers, but show them that what a business is doing to protect its customers. Or a business might do away with allowing customers to try on garments and instead institute a but a more lenient return policy.

How long does the virus stay on the cloth? Boord says there’s lot of caveats for studies on that. There may not be enough virus in the real-world environment to transfer it between humans on cloth.

Studies on how long the virus stays alive on different substances have focused on hospital surfaces, Knipp said. Gloves may be better for employees to have than requiring patrons to have them on when handling merchandise. Just be sure to tell employees that after touching a lot of items of clothing, be sure to take off the gloves and clean their hands before touching their faces or eating.

Greater Fort Wayne’s resources page has links to local companies making masks and other COVID-19 resources for businesses.

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