We've all seen the cursory temperature checks at entrances to restaurants and shops and looked with suspicion at the grubby bottle of hand sanitizer at the entrance and wondered if it would be safer to not touch it, but what can we do really reduce the risks of viruses spreading in our businesses.
Let's be honest, temperature scanners have become like metal detectors in airports - more of a tradition that a real control, and in the almost 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic has a single case been detected by getting a waiter to point an IR temperature gun in the general direction of the customers?
So what practical steps can businesses take to minimise risks whilst also helping to get seating capacity back up to pre-pandemic levels.
1. Ventilation - we now know that SARS-CoV-2 virus is mainly spread in fine suspended droplets - effectively airborne spread from an infected person to nearby people who are in the firing line of exhaled air and coughs. Masks can help - but not when you are eating food. So now is the time for businesses to invest in improved ventilation systems for their customer seating areas.
There's been cases of infection being spread to customers who were sitting 'downwind' of a ventilation outlet when the infected person was sitting 'upwind' near the outlet. So review your seating plans in relation to the ventilation air-flow.
Can you switch to a ceiling to floor vertical flow?
Can you position tables so they are not placed down-stream?
Can HEPA filters be added to prevent recirculation?
2. Screens - creating booths with high screens to isolate groups of customers can help to prevent spread from neighboring tables, whilst also allowing higher occupancy numbers where local laws permit.
By sitting people at a table in their family groups or 'bubbles' you can minimise spread between groups.
3. Air Cleaners - good quality air cleaners with a PM 2.5 HEPA filter can help to trap the droplets. The filters are not designed to remove virus particles, but they can remove the droplets that carry the viruses. You'll need to look at the air volume specifications to get sufficient coverage and they are not a total control by themselves, but they can help to reduce the level of airborne contamination and will help reassure customers.
4. Hand washing and Drying Facilities- staff and customers need to wash and dry their hands thoroughly to help prevent spread, and in practice warm air hand-dryers are really just a way to ensure people dry their hands on their clothes, as with the possible exception of the latest high capacity dryers they just take too long. In addition, with an airborne spread pandemic do we really want to be blowing warm air around in a wash room? Providing disposable paper towels is a simple, practical safety measure alongside soap dispenser that are kept topped up.
5. Masks as part of a Uniform - even before COVID it was a good ideal for food handling and service staff to wear masks. Masks help prevent the spread of colds and flu plus other pathogenic viruses, so it shouldn't have needed a global pandemic to make us do the right thing. So make masks part of your branded staff uniform, source comfortable masks with natural fabrics against the skin, and make it part of the way we all work even after the current pandemic subsides.