As health experts continue to evolve their guidance based on new data and differences in mandates from local and state governments, some business owners may be starting to feel uncertain of what the rules actually are.
Nonetheless, business owners are responsible for taking the appropriate steps to keep customers and employee safe. If you’re looking to confidently take action amid the information overload or sometimes conflicting advice, consider building a framework that can help you adopt the principles of well-understood core containment strategy while leaving room to add your own rules based on the specifics of your business and your local reality.
Start With a Core Strategy
The first step in creating your own business-specific plan is to understand the core containment strategy. According to a July 2020 Pew Research Center report, seven-in-10 Americans say the core strategies for containing the coronavirus are "well understood" and 78 percent say "it makes sense that studies may have conflicting advice because research is constantly improving." (The research was based on the responses of 10,957 American adults captured from April 29 to May 5, 2020.) This means that despite the changing advice or recommendations, the key components – namely, masks and distancing – should be part of every reopening plan.
The next step is to assess how local changes can affect recommendations. With the goal of getting everyone on the same page, Harvard University’s Global Health Institute and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics launched a network of research, policy and public health experts to publish a Key Metrics for COVID-19 Suppression framework. The framework provides clear and accessible guidance to policy makers, business owners and the public who must make reopening decisions across a variety of jurisdictions.
The framework's first aim is to inform communities about the severity of their specific outbreaks. A COVID Risk Level map illustrates if your area is at the green, yellow, orange or red risk level. It then delivers instructions on the intensity of control efforts needed.
Recognizing that some customers and employees might forget to bring masks, hand sanitizer and disposable gloves with them and consider providing them free of charge.
As an example, California is in the “red zone” for cases, indicating more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people at the time of this writing. Given the numbers, the framework recommends that Bay Area counties continue with a mask-wearing mandate, ensure that all retailers and personal services practice social distancing and keep indoor operations of non-essential businesses to a minimum.
California governor Gavin Newsom responded by ordering hair and nail salons, massage parlors and other beauty services in red-zone counties to close indoor operations and move them outdoors. Employees and customers must wear masks the whole time; employees must also wear disposable gloves, and manicurists must have their own stations and reception must be outdoors.
If you're struggling to make sense of conflicting advice on the national stage, review a science-backed source like Harvard’s framework for geography-specific virus information. Then follow guidance from local officials that aligns with the framework.
Consider Your Local Culture
Whether they are in the “red zone” or not, some areas of the U.S. are not following the recommended precautions against the spread of COVID-19.
If your business operates in a culture in which concerns about COVID-19 are lower, acknowledge that fact while still adhering to the standards set by trusted public officials (i.e. those whose decisions are informed by frameworks like Harvard’s).
To do this, start with education. Publish employee and customer communications, including entrance signage, that shows you're aware of the situation. You could, for instance, say something like: “We know you’re tired of masks, and it's hard to eat while wearing one. But we want to keep you safe, so please wear one over your nose and mouth while ordering and enjoy your food outside while remaining six feet apart from others.”
Depending on local mandates, you may or may not mandate temperature checks. Still, you should inform employees and customers in advance about what will happen if someone arrives at your establishment showing symptoms of illness. Train your managers and employees on how to refuse entry to that person, and do not penalize the affected individual. This way, while they might be temporarily offended, at least they will still receive their product, service or paycheck.
Recognizing that some customers and employees might forget to bring masks, hand sanitizer and disposable gloves with them, provide these at no charge. In the rare instance that someone complains, cheerfully share the reason for your rules and reiterate that the ultimate goal is to stay open!
COVID-19 is an unprecedented situation in which there are no perfect answers. If you demonstrate that you are doing the best you can and being as safe and sensible as possible, most of your community will respect the effort.
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