(This post originally appeared on Philly.com)
The good news for small businesses in the Delaware Valley is that COVID-19 cases appear to be declining, vaccinations are increasing, and regulations are beginning to ease. But there’s still some ways to go before we get back to normal. It remains a priority for businesses to operate safely as we bring back our employees and welcome customers.
But what does “being safe” mean, exactly? There’s been — and continues to be — a lot of conflicting information. Here’s some advice for small businesses directly from Thomas Farley, commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Health. Answers were condensed for clarity and space.
If you were running a small business in March 2021, how would you keep employees and customers safe?
First, all employees and customers must wear masks at all times except when employees are eating during break times. Lunch/ break times should not be taken in groups and individuals should keep six feet apart while doing so. Plastic barriers should be installed at checkout areas to physically separate cashiers and customers. Use floor decals or other visual cues to encourage spacing by customers. To reduce crowding, businesses should encourage online ordering if possible, use non-contact payment methods and offer curbside pickup and delivery options. Entryways and communal bathrooms should have handwashing stations or hand sanitizers.
What will change over the next six months?
It is still too early to predict what businesses will look like in the future. We are hopeful with the rollout of vaccines that case rates will continue to decline. But it’s important to note that just because the vaccine is here, it remains important now to wear masks. The hope is that with better ventilation, crowd reduction, and mask-wearing, businesses can start to make progress toward regular operations.
How long will mask mandates be place? How long should businesses require or urge customers and employees to wear masks?
Again, just because the vaccine is here doesn’t mean people should stop wearing masks. The rollout of the vaccine will take many more months and it is as important now more than ever for everyone to wear masks when they are around non-household members. Masks are one of the best ways to stop the chain of transmission.
What mask type do you recommend for a business owner to give employees?
There is no mask standard. Employee’s wearing any face covering is a step in the right direction. However, employers should try and provide standard blue paper masks or something comparable.
Do you think the outdoor dining is significantly safer than eating inside? What should restaurants consider doing?
Because of the air flow naturally available outside, outdoor dining is the safest way for people to eat at restaurants. This is why we have limited indoor seating capacity at 25%. Recently we started accepting applications for ventilation approval that would permit an expansion of indoor dining capacity. Since outdoor dining is the most optimal setting, if we can recreate outside air flow inside indoor dining can be safe for restaurants to expand seating capacity. If restaurants meet these ventilation and filter qualifications, they can expand from 25% seating capacity to 50%.
Is it still necessary to take people’s temperatures when workers or customers enter?
No. However, if businesses feel the need to measure temperatures, use a no-touch thermometer. Don’t allow anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or higher to remain on-site.
What if an employee or customer shows symptoms of COVID-19?
One of the best ways anyone can slow the spread of the virus is to self-evaluate. If you have symptoms, stay home. It is important that businesses educate their staff about this. They should remind staff who are sick or have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 within 10 days to stay home and follow CDC quarantine guidelines.
Is it still necessary to do thorough cleanings of a premises to protect against coronavirus?
Employers should make sure that they are wiping down high-touch surfaces with disinfectant at least every four hours. See CDC guidance for details. Carts, baskets, and counters should be wiped with disinfectant between customers.
Have you eaten indoors at a restaurant recently? When do you think you will?
Although indoor dining is allowed and can be safe if our precautions are taken, I have not dined at a restaurant since the start of the pandemic. This is because, for myself, it is not a risk worth taking. I have made good use of the various delivery, curbside pickup, and contactless payment options that are available.