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Georgia Department of Public Health issues new coronavirus guidance for restaurants

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Georgia Department of Public Health issues new coronavirus guidance for restaurants

Jacob Poe shoves a waffle into his mouth as the final seconds of the third round tick down during the waffle eating contest at the Waffle House off of Decatur Square. File Photo: Jonathan Phillips
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Decatur, GA – As coronavirus threatens the future of the restaurant industry, the Georgia Department of Public Health has issued new guidance for restaurateurs.

The new guidance, released March 15, provides cleaning recommendations but doesn’t include any recommendations to close restaurants. Restaurateurs Decaturish spoke to on March 14 said a prolonged closure could prove catastrophic to their businesses and to the local economy as a whole. But many people commenting on social media have asked for a total shutdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with some commenters saying a total shutdown of all businesses is inevitable. France already has closed all of its restaurants, cafes and other businesses where people gather.

Most local schools and daycares have closed due to coronavirus concerns. In response to concerns about the spread of the virus, Decaturish took down a crowd-sourced map that listed local openings and closings in the community.

The goal of the closures is to stop the spread of the virus. Georgia already has almost 100 cases, up from 66 reported on March 14. There are now 10 confirmed cases in DeKalb County, and currently, the county is No. 3 in the state for reported cases.

Social media users hammered the Brick Store Pub, a Decatur institution, for moving forward with a St. Patrick’s Day event on Saturday after the restaurant took precautions to mitigate the coronavirus spread. But the Brick Store wasn’t the only restaurant open for business on Saturday and there’s currently no order or even suggestion that private businesses should close to contain the spread of COVID-19. Currently, the Decatur Business Association is encouraging the public to support local businesses during a difficult time.

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The DBA on March 13 sent out an advisory titled “How to Stay Safe and Support City of Decatur Businesses.”

“Currently, many City of Decatur’s restaurants and retail stores are taking extra steps to ensure their spaces are clean and safe for customers,” the advisory from the DBA says. “Follow guidance from public health officials regarding social distancing and proper health etiquette if and when visiting businesses and public spaces.” The advisory also encourages people to support local businesses by shopping with them online and by purchasing gift cards.

The National Restaurant Association notes that the CDC said, “Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.”

Other restaurants are taking similar measures to increase social distancing, including expanding takeout offerings and removing tables to increase the distance between customers.

The guidance from the Department of Public Health contains steps many restaurants already are taking, including more thorough cleaning practices.

Here’s the latest guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health:

COVID-19 Guidance – Restaurants & Food Service

The expanding global outbreak of respiratory infections due to a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has now been declared a pandemic. Cases of COVID-19 are rapidly increasing in Georgia.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath, The best way to prevent infection with any respiratory virus is to use the same preventative strategies used during a normal cold and flu season: get a flu shot, wash hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when experiencing symptoms of illness until they resolve.

Everyone has a role in keeping our community healthy, and that includes our foodservice partners at local restaurants, mobile food units and food trucks.

Everyday Disease Prevention 

Take simple steps to support a healthy work environment. These are important every day, but especially when preventing the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and flu.

– Post signs that encourage staying home when sick (link is external), covering coughs and sneezes (link is external), and washing hands frequently with warm soapy water (link is external) at workplace entrances, restrooms, employee break rooms and in other visible areas.

– Remind people to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

– Provide tissues, wastebaskets and EPA approved hand sanitizer in areas where employees gather or meet.

– Provide disposable wipes and other cleaning materials so that frequently touched surfaces (counters, doorknobs, toilets, phones, etc.) can be properly wiped down by employees before each use.

– Follow recommendations for cleaning and sanitizing your workspace.

Employee Health 

– Support employees staying home when they are sick. Per CDC guidance, employers are encouraged not to require employees to provide a doctor’s note to return to work, because doing so will burden the medical system.

– Ensure that your sick leave policy makes it easy for employees to stay home if they need to. Make sure you are following federal, state, and local sick leave laws and policies. Make sure employees know these policies and understand your expectations.

– Create or update flexible policies that allow employees to stay home to care for a sick family member or child who cannot go to school.

– Remind employees that anyone who becomes sick with a fever and cough at work should go home immediately. They should return only after they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicines and/or cough suppressants.

– Make sure supervisors send employees home if they are sick.

– Plan for absenteeism by identifying essential functions and creating plans for continuity of operations.

    • Cross-train staff to perform essential functions so you can operate if key people are absent.
    • Consider what you need to maintain critical operations (identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, temporarily suspend some operations, if needed).

Promote Proper Handwashing

– Make sure handwashing signs are put where employees can see them.

– Ensure handwashing sinks are adequately stocked with soap and paper towels.

Wash hands thoroughly (link is external) with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.

– Dry hands with paper towels and throw the paper towels in the trash.

– Do not handle any ready-to-eat foods with bare hands.

Remember to Wash Hands:

– After coughing, sneezing, and wiping your nose.

– After using the bathroom.

– When preparing foods.

– When switching from preparing uncooked foods to working with ready to eat foods.

– After touching your face or hair.

– After touching animals.

– After eating and using tobacco/nicotine.

– After handling money or other forms of payment.

– After handling dirty equipment or utensils.

– Before putting on disposable gloves.

– Whenever hands become dirty.

Use Routine Cleaning Procedures

– Early evidence suggests that the COVID-19 virus can survive for several days at room temperature. However, special processes beyond routine cleaning and sanitizing are not recommended at this time. Only use sanitizers that have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency according to the product label. 

Cleaning and Sanitizing

Remember, cleaning and sanitizing are not the same. Clean with soap and water to

– Remove dirt and food from surfaces. Sanitize with chemicals or heat to reduce germs. Surfaces that look clean may still have germs on them that you can’t see. Sanitizing reduces these germs to safer levels.  Always follow the product’s label when using sanitizers.

– Clean and sanitize surfaces that are frequently touched. Surfaces such as remote controls, kitchen counters, doorknobs, bathroom surfaces, keyboards, tables and chairs, and phones and tablets should be cleaned often.

– Food-contact surfaces must be washed, rinsed, and sanitized after each use.

– Use disposable gloves for cleaning and sanitizing. Throw them away before leaving the area and wash hands.

– If you use disinfectant wipes, use according to package directions. Do not reuse the wipes to wipe down multiple surfaces. Throw used wipes in the trash.

– For a list of approved disinfectants from the Environmental Protection Division that are shown to be effective against SARS-CoV-2, click here: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2. Note: These disinfection concentrations may exceed the allowable levels allowed for use on food contact surfaces such as dishes and utensils. Be sure to follow the label directions for FOOD CONTACT SURFACES when using the chemical near or on utensils and food contact surfaces.

Protect Your Customers

– Encourage customers to wash their hands to help reduce illness transmission.

– Keep restrooms stocked with soap and paper towels.  You may notice that sinks in customer restrooms need to be stocked more frequently.

– Make sure alcohol-based hand sanitizer (approved by the Environmental Protection Agency) is available for customers to use if there is no soap and water.

– Be sure to clean and sanitize any objects or surfaces customers may touch, including restroom surfaces, menus, condiments, etc.

– Wash, rinse and sanitize tongs and other utensils in self-service areas often throughout the day.

Georgia Food Service Rules and Regulations do not govern customer behavior; however, a hand sanitizer must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency before it can be advertised or used.  Restrooms for employees and customers should be kept stocked with adequate soap, warm water and paper towels, as proper handwashing is recommended for reducing the spread of viruses and bacteria.  Food service employees are not to use a hand sanitizer unless it meets the requirements of Chapter 511-6-1-.03(5)(e).

Resources

Multnomah County, Washington’s Guidance for Restaurants and Food Service

Coronavirus Disease 2019, CDC

Coronavirus and Pandemic Preparedness for the Food Industry, FMI Food Industry Assoc.

Coronavirus: What Can You Do? National Restaurant Association

Interim Guidance for Business and Employers to Plan and Respond to COVID-19 CDC

Getting Your Workplace Ready for COVID-19 World Health Organization

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary, Georgia DPH

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