A positive COVID-19 case or exposure in your restaurant can be a scary prospect, and it could occur even if you are implementing proper safety and sanitation protocols. Creating a plan beforehand can help reduce anxiety, as well as allow you to continue to operate smoothly while keeping both your staff and customers safe. We’ve compiled information from the CDC and the National Restaurant Association to inform a list of best practices to help you develop the right response plan for your restaurant.
Don’t wait for a positive test to think about how your restaurant will respond. From creating a closing plan, to making sure your staff is informed and prepared, here are five key steps to take before an employee tests positive for COVID-19.
Start by reviewing your local government’s rules and regulations. Some states, like Massachusetts, require that restaurants must shut down for at least 24 hours after an employee tests positive for COVID-19. In other regions, it is only a recommendation.
In addition to requiring a temporary closure, some local governments require that employers support employees who contract COVID-19. In the United States, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes provisions that require paid sick leave for employees impacted by COVID-19. You can read more about that act and its impact on the restaurant industry in QSR’s article, “A Ten Point Plan for Restaurant Employers During COVID-19 Crisis.”
the event of a positive case, many restaurants are opting to temporarily close the restaurant. This can give you time to deep clean and perform staff contact tracing, as well as give your guests the peace of mind that you are taking their safety seriously. Communicate the closure with your customer and staff, and make sure to cancel any existing reservations.
Pro tip: For help closing your restaurant, 86Repairs created a checklist of everything you need to do temporarily close your kitchen.
After deep cleaning and following your local regulations, consider keeping your restaurant open for takeout and delivery only. For help on setting up your takeout and delivery program, check out our guide on optimizing your off-premise business.
The Winchester restaurant in Grand Rapids, MI, made the decision to be open and honest from the beginning when they had an employee test positive. The restaurant quickly shared a statement on social media and their website letting customers know they had a positive case, and that they were temporarily shutting down for deep cleaning. Responding quickly and transparently showed their customers that they were on top of safety, and built trust with the local community. When The Winchester reopened, instead of diners staying away out of fear, they saw a swell in traffic and support.
Your statement should include:
To minimize confusion, your staff should know how you plan to respond to a positive COVID test, as well as what support they will receive from your restaurant. Send out an email, or host a virtual staff meeting, ensuring you cover everything in your employee response policy, as well as next steps for the restaurant. This will minimize panic and confusion in the moment, and allow everyone to feel safe and secure proceeding forward.
Learn more about staff health and safety at Trust20.org
A vital part of your COVID response is making sure your staff know what to do if they are exposed or test positive for COVID-19.
Make sure a copy of the response plan is distributed to all employees at your company, whether physically or via email, and leave space for staff to ask any questions.
If an employee has been exposed to coronavirus, but is not yet showing symptoms, the National Restaurant Association outlined the following options:
Have the employee stay home for the recommended 14 day period after exposure
Have the employee return to work and require face masks, temperature checks, and six feet of social distancing. Exposed employees should also monitor symptoms using the CDC’s Coronavirus Self Checker.
If an employee begins to exhibit symptoms, they should be sent home immediately.
If the employee is currently working and exhibits coronavirus symptoms, they should be sent home immediately, avoiding public transportation.
If the employee is at home and exhibits coronavirus symptoms, designate who employees should contact--whether it is the manager on duty or your food and safety manager.
Employees with symptoms should schedule a test as soon as possible or reach out to their health care provider, and follow the CDC’s recommendations for what to do when sick.
Don’t forget to let the employee know how you will support them, including how to access paid leave or health benefits.
Notify all employees of a positive case, and begin contact tracing.
If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, identify any co-workers in close contact with the employee in the last two weeks, either by asking the employee or reviewing shift schedules. Close contact is defined as within six feet for more than 15 minutes. Contact all employees who were in close contact with the infected person, and require that they follow proper exposure protocol.
And don’t forget: It’s required to notify your local health officials of all cases of COVID-19 among staff.
Asymptomatic employees or employees should not return to work until the 14 day self isolation period is over. Sick employees should wait until 3 days without fever have passed without the use of fever-reducing medications, or meet the CDC’s requirements for discontinuation of isolation.
Depending on local rules and regulations, you may also require a negative COVID-10 test, or medical clearance note.
Continue to temperature check upon their return to work, and send employees home immediately if symptoms re-appear.
You can follow all of the CDC’s guidelines and procedures in the restaurant, but if your staff aren’t following the CDC’s recommended social distancing guidelines in their personal life, they can put your restaurant at risk.
In order to create a safe environment for both employees and customers, staff must clearly understand expectations of their behavior both inside and outside of the workplace.
In the workplace, that starts with distributing a copy of your COVID-19 response plan, and making sure every employee follows your guidelines while working. Outside of the workplace, that means making sure your employees understand how their behavior can increase the spread of COVID-19.
Emphasize the importance of wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining six feet of distance, and large gatherings. Let your employees know beforehand how these measures will be enforced, and what the consequences are if they are found putting themselves and others at risk.