Editor's note: this article was last updated on February 15, 2021 to reflect the most recent guidelines from the CDC.
As the United States reaches another milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 215,000 deaths and nearly 7.9 million cases reported, it remains critical to our community and employee safety that IGA retailers continue to be vigilant in prevention and containment measures. And as the flu season gets underway during the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers must manage another obstacle in keeping employees healthy. Even when associates take all of outlined precautions, it is still possible to contract a virus in or outside of the store, so use the resources below to both prevent and manage employee illness this fall and winter season.
Protect employees from COVID-19 and the flu
Follow these six steps to prevent employees and shoppers from becoming infected, which include IGA's Minimum Safety Standards and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
1. Ensure all employees practice good hygiene. This means: washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds frequently, wearing gloves, or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
2. Remind employees to avoid close contact with others, both at work and at home. Whenever possible, keep at least six feet of distance with others at work and in public, and provide employees with a well-fitting face mask.
3. Always cover coughs and sneezes with a mask, tissue, or the inside of the elbow. Immediately dispose of any tissues used and wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use 60 percent alcohol hand sanitizer.
4. Incorporate regular cleaning AND sanitizing procedures in store. Wipe down frequently-touched surfaces, like door handles at the store entrances and exits, cooler handles, bathroom door and sink handles, etc. Use EPA-approved disinfectants to further sanitize these surfaces. See the CDC recommendations for more cleaning and disinfecting tips.
5. Ask employees to monitor their health and increase staffing capabilities for backup. Require employees with a fever or COVID-19 symptoms* to stay home. Implement temperature checks before employees are authorized to begin work to ensure no one has a fever. When preparing to increase staffing, see our best practices for hiring during COVID-19 and stay tuned to The IGA Minute for more information coming soon.
*COVID-19 symptoms include, but are not limited to: fever, cough, shortness of breath, sudden loss of taste or smell, sore throat.
6. Connect with IGA's resources to ensure you're up to date on the latest COVID-19 news and prevention measures.
- Follow the IGA Minimum Safety Standards set forth by IGA CEO John Ross.
- Visit IGA ALERT, where we've gathered critical resources for IGA retailers, including the latest guidance from the CDC and FDA, reports on shopper behavior, legislation updates, and more.
- Join our private Hometown Proud Best Practices Facebook group to share your best practices and find new ones from other IGA retailers.
- Ensure all employees have completed the free virus prevention and crisis resource courses available through the IGA Coca-Cola Institute. These courses can ensure associates are properly trained to work through the current pandemic and will teach prevention and sanitation measures.
- Prepare for your local COVID-19 impact with Oliver Wyman's Pandemic Navigator, which will forecast new and cumulative Coronavirus cases in your county. Learn how to use the Navigator here.
How to help employees if someone gets sick
As retailers and associates remain diligent in their prevention methods, there is still a risk that you or a team member will test positive for COVID-19. We've outlined the best protocol for moving ahead should that happen in your store, including a sample press release for notifying the community.
1. Contain the virus
If an employee reports symptoms and/or feeling ill, send them home or to a health care facility immediately. The employee should stay away from the workplace until they no longer have a fever (100.4ºF or higher) or other symptoms for at least three days without using a fever-suppressing medication AND at least seven days have passed since the onset of symptoms.
If the employee tests positive for COVID-19, first contact your local health department for their advice on how to proceed. Then, move quickly to contain the virus at your store. Sanitize and disinfect any areas the infected employee came in contact with, following the CDC’s cleaning and disinfection recommendations. Increase air circulation whenever possible, as you want to minimize the risk for other employees to be exposed to respiratory droplets.
2. Communicate with employees
Gather your employees to inform them that a fellow associate has tested positive for COVID-19 while maintaining the confidentiality of the infected employee (as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)). Alert them to the steps you have and are continuing to take to protect them from exposure and infection, and encourage them to be extra cautious in monitoring their health for symptoms. You will also need to determine which employees may have been exposed to the virus based on the infected employee’s role and behavior in-store and specifically inform these employees of their potential exposure (while continuing to maintain the infected employee's confidentiality).
From there, the retailer and employees should follow the public health recommendations for exposure, as outlined by the CDC, and contact their local health department for advice and local guidelines. Communicate to employees verbally and in writing the importance of staying home if they feel sick, and be prepared to cover the shifts of any employee with potential exposure to the ill associate.
3. Communicate with shoppers and the public
If an associate tests positive for COVID-19, a retailer’s swift response will work to protect other employees and shoppers from being exposed. Likewise, communicating with shoppers and the public in a transparent way will help protect the reputation of your business and your brand, says Ashley Page, IGA's crisis communications lead.
"If someone in the community hears you have an infected employee, it's highly likely you'll start getting questions from shoppers—both in the store and on your social media channels," Page says. "The key is to get out in front of those rumors with the facts, and share with the community what you're doing to make your store safe."
IGA has created a press release you can use as a starting point, but Page stresses the importance of reviewing any statement with your local health department first. "It's crucial that your shoppers see you're working within local channels to mitigate the infection," she says. "Having your local health department standing behind you saying you are following the protocol that they and the CDC have outlined will make all the difference in public opinion."
Returning to work after potential exposure
The CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to individuals with active COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community and after surfaces used by the potentially exposed individuals in the facility are cleaned and disinfected, as described here.
Close contact (leading to risk of potential exposure) is defined by CDC as:
- Being within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more
- Having direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 case (e.g., being coughed on, sneezed on, etc.)
- Sharing physical contact (hugging, kissing) or eating and drinking utensils with someone with COVID-19
- Providing home care to someone with COVID-19
NOTE: Short term exposure, such as walking past someone who is COVID-19 positive/presumed positive, is not considered “close contact.”
Consider your employees' vaccination status when determining the appropriate time off from work after potential exposure—use the CDC guidelines outlined here.
Remember, IGA is constantly updating resources for retailers to use to educate employees and shoppers and prevent the spread of viruses. Subscribe to the IGA Alert eNews or visit the redesigned IGA ALERT website.
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