How fast-food workers and other restaurant employees considered 'essential' can stay safe as they continue to go to work, according to experts
- Some fast-food workers are terrified about catching the coronavirus at work, as they have been classified as "essential" employees.
- Experts recommend trying to stay six feet away from coworkers or customers, washing hands regularly, and wearing gloves when touching items handled by other people.
- If workers have any COVID-19 symptoms, such as a fever of over 100.4 degrees, a cough, or difficulty breathing, they should stay home. Companies of 50 to 500 workers are now required to offer workers paid sick leave.
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As many businesses shut down amid the coronavirus outbreak, fast-food workers are still expected to show up for shifts. And, many employees are terrified of getting sick themselves.
Groups such as truck drivers and healthcare workers rely on to-go, drive-thru, and delivery services as grocery stores reduce hours and many restaurants shut down. President Trump and Vice President Pence have promoted the power of fast-food chains in feeding the US during the coronavirus outbreak.
"I think restaurants are essential," Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena, an emergency physician and the director of global health for Northwell Health, told Business Insider. "Remember, we have thousands of healthcare workers who are working long shifts, aren't going to have time to cook or prepare food and may be relying on restaurants to keep them going during this time."
However, many of these workers worry that they're risking their own health or could spread the coronavirus in their local communities by working during the outbreak.
"I have little sister at home and my mom is diabetic," one McDonald's worker told Business Insider. "Not only do I risk my health, but I risk" the health of my family.
Experts' tips to stay safe
Experts say that, if employees have to go to work, they should try and keep six feet between themselves and coworkers or customers.
"If you do have to work, take precautions to distance yourself as much as possible from others," said Jaimie Meyer, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist.
Cioe-Pena similarly encourages the six-feet rule and says that delivery people should try to leave food outside doors instead of directly handing it to customers, if possible.
Other tips from the experts include washing hands before touching your face and, in general, washing your hands frequently with soap and water. If soap is not available, workers should use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Meyer advises that workers wear gloves when handling other people's used items, such as silverware and dishes. Pens used to sign receipts could be a way for the virus to transfer from employee to customer, or vice versa.
Both Meyer and Cioe-Pena said that workers should not work if they have symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever of over 100.4, a cough, or difficulty breathing. Instead, workers should stay home, notify their supervisor, and call their primary care doctor.
"Make sure you understand your employer's plan for sick leave - know your rights!" Meyer said.
While chains have made a major shift on safety, workers remain worried
Many fast-food chains began offering paid sick leave as the coronavirus spread. While fast-food franchisees did not necessarily do the same, the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act required many to begin doing so.
Still, workers remain worried about catching the coronavirus or spreading it while asymptomatic. And practical realities make experts' guidance difficult to follow in certain workplaces.
In some kitchens, it is difficult to keep six feet between workers. Handing over change or meals can put employees within six feet of customers, even as chains work to roll out contact-free ordering and payment. When workers try to wash or sanitize their hands between drive-thru orders, they told Business Insider that some customers become irate at the slower service.
"I am wearing gloves," said a second McDonald's worker. "I am attempting to keep my distance from people coming in and out drive-thru or at the front counter. However, the reality is that there is no way to even attempt to balance it."
"I am fearful every time I go into work about bringing something home," the worker continued. "I would say that my concerns for my children are higher than what I feel it would be a concern for myself."
Companies have made major changes to try to make it safer for employees and customers, as chains like McDonald's roll out new policies on a nearly daily basis.
McDonald's, for example, is requiring all stores to roll out contactless service. That means locations will implement social distancing between employees and customers, hand off all orders pre-bagged, and generally attempt to reduce contact between individuals.
In an effort to make workers' jobs easier, the company announced internally on Wednesday that it is switching to a more limited menu. All seating areas are closed and the company has rolled out new cleaning and sanitizing practices.
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