The restaurant industry is working hard to keep their employees and patrons safe during the coronavirus pandemic, but navigating the most effective protocols can be challenging since the circumstance are so new.
In order to combat this uncertainty and offer businesses a more clear and comprehensive set of COVID-19 related guidelines — and offer patrons peace of mind — the Ohio Restaurant Association, Ohio Environmental Health Association, Governor's Restaurant Advisory Group, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have teamed up on a Unified Industry Voice campaign.
“We want to share the message that restaurants are safe places because the vast majority of owners and managers are doing what’s right and required through cleaning, sanitization, social distancing, following protocols in the Dine Safe Ohio order and working with health officials,” said ORA President and CEO John Barker in a press release. “Along with our Ohio Restaurant Promise, these best practices and guidelines will provide clarity and standardization among industry professionals and the public throughout Ohio.”
According to the press release, the documents offer "easy-to-use guidelines" regarding: common questions and answers about COVID-19 and helpful tools for the restaurant and foodservice industry; what to do when you have an employee who tests positive; a return to work flowchart for direct and indirect contact with COVID-19; and a return to work flowchart for COVID-19 test results.
The guide is available on ohiorestaurant.org and offers downloadable and printable documents.
In addition to the online documents, the campaign includes industry professional- and expert-led webinars, and communications with industry stakeholders.
“Restaurant owners and operators are focused on doing everything they can to survive the devastating impact of the pandemic,” said Barker.
And for those who want to know the basic FAQs about what the coalition recommends restaurants do when an employee tests positive, but don't feel like reading over the entire document, here are the basics:
- Restaurants cannot directly ask an employee if they have COVID-19. They can ask how he or she is feeling, in general, but cannot inquire about a specific illness due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) privacy rules. However, restaurants are required to perform staff symptom checks under the Responsible ReStart Ohio guidelines and "immediately isolate and seek medical care for any individual who develops symptoms while at work," as well as "contact the local health district about suspected cases or exposures."
- If an employee does exhibit symptoms of COVID at work, restaurants should immediately send the sick employee home. A person who has tested positive for COVID-19 should remain under home isolation precautions for 10 days after symptoms begin AND until 24 hours after fever is gone without taking fever reducing medications and symptoms improve.
- Any staff who HAVE been in close contact with the sick person 48 hours prior to symptom onset or test collection date (if not having symptoms), should NOT be at work for 14 days after their last close contact and should quarantine themselves. They should watch for symptoms. Close contact includes being within 6 feet of a sick person with COVID-19 for about 15 minutes or longer.
- Restaurants cannot tell employees if a specific co-worker has tested positive for COVID-19 or any other communicable disease based on ADA privacy rules, which restrict employers from sharing the personal health information. Employers should inform employees that possible exposure has occurred in the workplace without disclosing any identifying information about the individual who tested positive.
- If staff have not been in close contact with the sick person, and are not sick, they are considered to be at low risk for infection. They can continue to go to work but should monitor their health for 14 days and stay away from others if they get sick.
- If staff have symptoms but have not been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and have not tested positive for COVID-19, they should stay home and avoid public places until 24 hours after the fever is gone without taking fever reducing medications and symptoms improve.
- Currently there is no required testing for COVID-19 for close contacts. The decision to be tested is left to individuals and their physicians. If a close contact tests negative prior to completion of 14-day quarantine, they are still required to complete their quarantine period and are not able to return to work just based on negative test results for COVID-19.
- There are currently no rules, laws or guidelines that require restaurants to close if they have a positive case within their establishment.
- Restaurants are also not required to preemptively shut down if exposed to COVID. They should work with their local health department. However, there may be a situation where a large segment of staff may need to quarantine due to the exposure, which would make it difficult to adequately staff the establishment.