WINCHESTER — As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the country, businesses remaining open should take precautions to keep the spread of COVID-19 down, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and health officials advise.
Being aware is one of the biggest recommendations, the CDC has said.
The CDC has advised that if an employee of a company is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers are able to inform fellow employees of the possible exposure in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The fellow employees should then self-monitor for symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Dr. Colin Greene, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, said employers, though, should not go into detail about who has tested positive or who has been tested.
Some employees, however, feel they need to be told by the employer. Greene said the employer has no obligation to disclose that information, but did explain a normal process of how that information is shared to employees.
“The law that rules those kind of situations are the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) laws, which involves patient privacy. You really should not be revealing information like that,” Greene said. “But what will happen if (a company) truly has a positive case is the health department will find out sooner rather than later, then my staff will start contacting. They’ll talk to the person who had the positive, find out where they work, where they live, where they stop to get coffee in the morning, who they might have been around and then they will contact the people who may be at risk and give them advice as appropriate.”
That company is also not required to shut down for any period of time.
Greene said he is unaware of “any specific regulation that a business has to close if they have a positive case.”
Other recent complaints from employees have circled around businesses not providing gloves or masks as the worry about the virus grows.
Greene said there is much misunderstanding out there about how the virus spreads and what role masks play in the situation.
“First of all, people should consider what the risk level is for any business,” he said. “For just day-to-day contact, if someone is not within six feet of someone or is not likely to get coughed or sneezed on, that’s not really high risk. People just passing in the hallway aren’t likely to spread the disease, but if they sit side by side at the lunch table within six feet that could be an exposure.
“And face masks — those generally only stop outgoing germs,” he continued. “They stop wet stuff coming out of your mouth and nose that stick to the mask. If someone sneezes and coughs in the air, those are dry and they’re tiny particles and a surgical mask won’t stop them very well.”
Businesses are still urged to help fight the spread of COVID-19, and Greene recommended all businesses and employees keep an eye on the guidelines set forth by the CDC, which are fluid and can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html
To reduce the transmission of COVID-19 among employees, CDC recommendations include: employees who have symptoms should notify a supervisor and stay home; sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps and not return to work until they’ve quarantined themselves in accordance to local and state health departments’ standards; and employees who are well but have a sick family member should notify their supervisor and follow CDC-recommended precautions.
Employees who appear to have symptoms should be immediately separated from others and sent home.
Officials in the workplace should also work to identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 in their facility, the CDC said.
If someone at the workplace is sick, the CDC recommends closing off areas used by someone who is sick, opening outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area and waiting 24 hours — or as long as possible — before you clean or disinfect. Then, all areas used by the sick person should be cleaned and disinfected.
When cleaning the workplace, the CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves and gowns for all tasks, including handling trash. Depending on the situation, other personal protective equipment (PPE) might be required. Gloves and gowns should be removed carefully to avoid further contamination.
Cleaning should be done with soap and water, the CDC recommends. High-touch surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks and others.
To disinfect, the CDC recommends using diluted household bleach solutions while following manufacturer instructions.
To clean electronic devices such as tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls and ATM machines, the CDC says to consider putting a wipeable cover over them or to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on what to use. If there are no instructions available, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-base wipe or spray containing at least 70% alcohol.
The CDC recommends all managers to educate their employees on the COVID-19 pandemic, including how to recognize the symptoms and how to clean properly. Instructions should be provided on what to do if they develop symptoms, and policies should be put in place for worker protection and how to handle using PPE.
Essential businesses are encouraged to maintain healthy business operations but should implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices.
As of Tuesday, there were five confirmed cases in the region — a woman in her 30s, two men in their 60s, a man in his 70s and a man in his 80s.
Three involve Shenandoah County residents and two cases involve Frederick County residents.