The novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, has upended the world’s concept for normal. Much of the United State is on lockdown to slow the spread and flatten the curve. There is a lot of uncertainty about what this means for the future of the economy as well as individual businesses, leaving most of us with a pervasive sense of anxiety about what to expect.
This is true for individuals as well as business owners. Whether your business is deemed essential or non-essential, you may be experiencing uncertainty and fear right now. What we’re facing is unprecedented, and the sheer amount of information out there can make it difficult to figure out what you should be doing to protect your business, your customers, and your workers.
We’ve pulled together this article from a variety of trusted government and professional sources to help you understand what you should be doing to combat the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 in your business place. However, the outbreak’s severity and regulations vary between regions, so always check with your local government advisories to find the most specific and helpful information for you.
In this article, we’ll be covering some basic COVID-19 frequently asked questions for business owners and what kinds of sanitation services you’ll need to protect your clients and employees.
What Business Owners Need to Know About COVID-19
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, more accurately known as SARS-CoV-2.
There are many reasons this virus has been deemed a pandemic—meaning a worldwide spread of a disease—while other coronaviruses, such as those that cause the common cold, have not. One of the most important is its ability to spread—while research is ongoing and subject to change, SARS-CoV-2 appears to be easier to spread than similar illnesses.
To compound the issue, the fact that the virus is “novel”—or new to the human species—means that people who contract it will not have any built-up immunity, unlike H1N1 or many other viruses. More tendency to spread with no community immunity increases the potential for severe complications, even if many who contract the illness do not display symptoms or experience only mild symptoms.
These facts are important to know, but also raise a lot of questions about how the virus is spread and what must be done to protect customers and employees. The World Health Organization states that the virus is primarily spread through person-to-person contact, typically through droplets expelled when a person coughs, sneezes, or even exhales. Droplets that land on surfaces may contain the virus, and a person who touches that surface and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth may be infected. Contracting the virus is also possible if a person breathes in the droplets from an infected person.
Once you understand how the virus is transmitted, it’s much easier to understand why the methods of physical distancing and handwashing are so important. By limiting physical proximity, washing our hands frequently, and avoiding touching our faces, we limit the main transmission vectors.
However, such measures aren’t always possible, particularly for essential workers who interact with the public. For them, some additional questions arise, like how long COVID-19 lives on various substances and how to protect exposure.
What Surfaces Can COVID-19 Live On?
Many public-facing essential workers come into contact with a variety of substances every day that COVID-19 can theoretically live on. While research is still being conducted into how long SARS-CoV-19 can survive on different surfaces and we don’t yet know what viral load—the concentration of the virus required to cause infection—is present in these surfaces, it’s important to treat them as if they are contaminated to avoid infection.
One way to do that is regular disinfection. Knowing how long it’s possible for the virus to survive on different surfaces can help you determine how often they need to be disinfected. Remember, this research is ongoing and subject to change—always consult the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and other trusted agencies for the most up-to-date information about SARS-CoV-19 and COVID-19.
Can COVID-19 Live On Paper?
Though COVID-19’s viability on paper haven’t undergone much research, WebMD has based their understanding of how long COVID-19 can survive on paper on other coronaviruses. Some coronaviruses survive only minutes while others may persist for up to five days. In this case, it’s recommended to treat paper products as if they may carry the virus and wash your hands thoroughly after touching them. If you must touch paper for an extended period of time, avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes until you have thoroughly washed your hands.
The New England Journal of Medicine found evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours. Again, avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes if you must touch cardboard on a regular basis.
Can COVID-19 Live On Food?
With many people turning to delivery in areas with stay at home orders, whether COVID-19 can live on food has become an important question. However, there is little to no evidence that COVID-19 is spread via food or delivery services.
Still, precautions should be taken. If you run a restaurant, delivery service, grocery store, or other service in the food supply chain, your workers should be outfitted with gloves, masks, hand-washing stations, and sanitizer whenever possible, as well as enough room to practice physical distancing. Opt for no-contact delivery service, such as dropping food off outside of a customer’s home, rather than face-to-face interaction.
Grocery stores, restaurants, and other services should educate customers and employees about how the virus is spread as well as best practices for preventing that spread. Encourage customers and employees to wash produce as well as their hands after loading or unloading groceries. Provide information about how long the virus can survive on various surfaces and how to eliminate it, such as by leaving packages alone if they are non-perishable or wiping them down with an effective disinfectant. While experts say there is no evidence to link food or food packaging to the virus’s spread, they do advise following all safe food handling procedures for customers and employees.
Can COVID-19 Live On Metal?
COVID-19 can survive for hours or days on certain metals. At least one study has shown that SARS-CoV-2 can survive for four hours on copper and up to two or three days on stainless steel.
Regular disinfecting of materials like copper and especially stainless steel are essential to preventing the spread of the virus. This can be accomplished with products from the EPA-approved list, which includes not just the types of products that decontaminate surfaces but also what kinds of surfaces they are effective on and how long they must be treated to achieve decontamination.
Can COVID-19 Live on Plastic?
At least one study has shown that the novel coronavirus is detectable on plastic after three to four days. As with other surfaces, this explains why good handwashing hygiene and regular disinfecting are so important. Wipe down plastic surfaces whenever possible and encourage employees and customers to wash their hands frequently with easily available soap, water, and hand sanitizer.
What Can My Essential Business Do to Slow the Spread of COVID-19?
If you run an essential business during this pandemic, you are likely wondering what you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among your employees and your coworkers. This is a time of great uncertainty—information about the virus changes frequently, and there isn’t a clear procedure for what you should be doing to keep everyone safe.
Develop COVID-19 Procedures
At the most basic level, expect that one or more of your employees will or already have contracted the virus and have a plan in place. Employees who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should not come into work, and employers should aim to be as flexible as possible with sick pay policies. If workers are afraid to call in because they may miss out on pay and therefore be unable to make rent or mortgage payments, they may not call in and could spread the illness. This may be a financial strain on your business in already uncertain times, but giving one employee the ability to stay home may mean that you prevent all of your employees from getting sick.
Likewise, do whatever you can to provide your employees with the protective equipment they need and the knowledge to use it properly. The CDC is now recommending cloth face coverings (not N95 masks, which should be reserved for medical staff) for situations when physical distancing is not always possible, such as in grocery stores and pharmacies. Notably, cloth masks do not prevent against contracting the coronavirus, but instead help mitigate the virus’ spread. Since around 25 percent of people with the virus do not display symptoms, this can be a helpful method of slowing the spread.
Gloves are also a good step toward mitigating spread, but proper training is also important. Gloves work as a “second skin” for your hands, but do not stop the spread entirely—if a person wearing gloves touches their eyes, mouth, or nose, they are at risk for contracting the virus. Instead, gloves should be used when frequent hand-washing is not possible, but not as a replacement for hand-washing. Gloves should be changed frequently and always accompanied by overall good hand hygiene.
Among the most important things you can do for your employees is providing frequent opportunities for hand-washing with soap and water. Hand sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol is a good substitute if hand-washing is not available, but it should be used as an alternative rather than as a first priority.
Outfit Your Business
COVID-19 has made many people more aware of how easy it is to spread illness in public. Thankfully, there are existing solutions to many of these issues that you can implement in your own place of business.
One of these solutions is sneeze guards and other physical barriers. These clear, plastic or plexiglass barriers provide a way for employees like grocery store clerks or bank tellers to interact with customers without potentially spreading the virus through exhales, coughs, or sneezes. Sneeze guards are a great addition to any business that interacts with the public, but should be used alongside measures like handwashing rather than as a substitute for them.
If your business has been forced to close, board-up services will help protect your building, merchandise, and equipment. Board-up services block your windows and doors from public access, providing security from weather damage, break-ins, or other issues until you are able to reopen.
If you regularly have many visitors to your location, ongoing COVID-19 decontamination services are also a great option. Services like these are prepared with EPA-approved cleaners and equipment proven to eliminate the novel coronavirus, and can decontaminate your building before you open, after you close, or even multiple times throughout the day. COVID-19 decontamination services can be provided indoors or outdoors, covering high-touch surfaces like door handles, stair railings, cash machines, and similar equipment.
What is the Number One Business Priority During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
If you run an essential business and are still open during the pandemic, your number-one priority should be maintaining the health and safety of your clients and employees. Keeping your profits up is important as well, but sick workers can spread illness to one another and to customers. COVID-19 can cause weeks of illness, damaging both your ability to have enough staff and enough customers to sustain you.
That may require some radical shifts in your typical business model, but as strikes at Amazon, Instacart, and various fast food chains have shown, not sufficiently protecting your workers when you are able to do so can have a strong detrimental impact on your business. Not only do workers strike, but their actions are covered in the media and lead to customer boycotts. Keeping your customers and employees safe in the short term protects your business’ reputation and workforce in the long term.
Protecting them means staying informed, providing flexible sick benefits, and ensuring that your employees have access to handwashing, hand sanitizer, masks, and other equipment, as well as regular decontamination. Transblue offers a variety of decontamination services designed for safety during COVID-19, giving you the peace of mind you need to focus on keeping your employees and customers safe and happy during these uncertain times.