States across the U.S. are lifting stay-at-home orders and moving into Phase 2 or Phase 3 of reopening their economies. As restrictions ease, many small businesses are beginning to resume operations. A poll of over 21,000 small businesses that asked how soon these businesses would fully reopen after government restrictions lift found that 34% of small businesses plan to reopen as soon as restrictions lift and 19% anticipate opening within a month.
Medical professionals like myself have been taking precautions to ensure patients feel safe entering hospitals and practices again – business owners should be making these same considerations to stop the spread of COVID-19 among their employees, customers and communities.
The first step for business owners is to determine if they are ready to reopen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) decision tool can help businesses make reopening decisions, outlining critical workplace considerations for safely resuming on-site operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For businesses in the process of reopening, The CDC issued guidance to help them do it safely. This guidance includes steps business owners and managers can take including:
Developing a plan for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
It’s always an effective exercise to maintain a clean workspace, but this practice is now critical to help reduce the spread of the disease. The CDC recommends business owners take inventory of the kinds of surfaces and materials that make up their workplace, determine what needs normal routine cleaning and what surfaces need to be disinfected and develop a plan for regularly and appropriately cleaning these surfaces. The CDC advises that frequently touched surfaces and objects such as doorknobs, light switches, tables, countertops, desks, and faucets and sinks “will need to be cleaned and then disinfected further to reduce the risk of germs on surfaces and objects.” The CDC points businesses to the EPA’s list of approved products that are effective against COVID-19 to disinfect high-touch surfaces and objects after normal cleaning.
Prior to opening, business owners and managers should make sure to have necessary cleaning and disinfection products on hand to keep the premises safe for employees and customers. The CDC recommends that businesses also have gloves and personal protective equipment appropriate for the chemicals used for routine cleaning and disinfecting.
Maintaining safe behavioral practices
Business owners should promote and establish policies for following the social distancing guidelines set forth by the CDC. The CDC advises altering workspaces “to help employees and customers maintain social distancing and physically separate employees from each other and from customers.” Some of the strategies business owners can use to adhere to social distancing guidelines include:
- Implementing flexible work hours by rotating or staggering shifts to limit the number of employees in the workplace at the same time
- Modifying workspaces to increase physical space between employees
- Using visual cues such as signs, tape marks, or decals, placed 6 feet apart, to indicate where to stand when physical barriers are not possible.
- Close or limit access to employee common areas
Requiring employees to wear masks is a practice that can help limit risks to employees and customers. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings but emphasizes that wearing a cloth face covering does not replace the need to practice social distancing.
Business owners and managers should also encourage employees to wash their hands frequently. The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
Educating and training employees on safety protocols
To help safely resume operations and foster a culture of workplace safety, business owners should continuously remind employees about practices and policies designed to keep everyone safe. As part of this effort, leaders can schedule a daily discussion with employees to reinforce the importance of complying with guidelines, encourage them to follow any new policies or procedures and update them on new state and local public health updates related to COVID-19.
To reopen safely and sustainably, small businesses will need to understand and follow CDC guidelines to protect their employees, customers and communities.
Dr. Anthony Barile is an infectious disease medical director, Health First.