Operations

Keeping the coronavirus at bay

Foodservice operators are paying attention to the coronavirus as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seeks to boost awareness of the illness and how it spreads.
Illustration: Shutterstock

One of the big challenges in battling the coronavirus is the lack of information available to all parties, from health officials to foodservice operations and other businesses looking to protect their employees and customers. The contagion has grown into a major global health issue so quickly that little data has been collected and shared.

At an assisted living home in East Greenwich, R.I, the foodservice team is responding to the recent coronavirus news as they would to an outbreak of the flu or the common cold: reiterating the importance of using hand sanitizer, advocating for proper hand-washing and encouraging employees to wear a face mask if they didn’t receive the flu shot.

“If anything illness-wise ever gets bad here, I do ask my servers to clear plates with vinyl gloves as another precaution,” says Giulianna Galiano, director of dining services. “The staff also knows to call into work if they show any signs or symptoms of throwing up, diarrhea and other flu-like symptoms such as aches and pains.”

Staff at Austin Independent School District in Austin, Texas, are following a similar approach, treating the coronavirus as they would other common illnesses, while paying close attention to media reports and information shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“As a district, we are encouraging our local communities and schools to follow the recommendations of health officials to take the same steps to protect against coronavirus as those that are taken to prevent the spread of everyday illnesses like the common cold or the flu,” says Executive Director of Food Service and Warehouse Operations Anneliese Tanner.

How it spreads

The CDC recently set up a microsite that pulls together what the scientific community has learned about similar types of viruses. Included is this primer on how this virus likely spreads, assuming it mimics similar pathogens:

Person-to-person contact. The CDC is defining “contact” as coming within 6 feet of someone carrying the virus. Authorities have raised the possibility that air might be enough of a medium for the transference, given a case in California in which someone who contracted the disease apparently had no face-to-face interaction with anyone who was infected. The virus is known to be carried on respiratory droplets from someone who sneezes or coughs.

Touching contaminated surfaces or objects. “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19”—the formal name of the disease caused by coronavirus—"by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes,” the CDC says. “But this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” Still, the possibility could be of special concern to the foodservice industry because it could temper consumers’ confidence in the safety of delivery food.

Someone showing no symptoms. Among the mysteries posed by the coronavirus is its level of contagiousness. Initial observations suggest the pathogen could be transmitted by someone who carries the virus but shows no symptoms. “There have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” the CDC says.

The agency warns, “The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (‘community spread’) in some affected geographic areas. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.” The populations in those areas could be regarded as contaminated, regardless of whether they show symptoms.

More information is available from the CDC’s website, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/.

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