Many of the states that had imposed some form of shelter in place order are starting to open back up. With businesses re-opening to the public there’s a lot of talk about keeping customers, clients, and employees safe. Emails and websites are filled with long lists of what businesses are doing to make sure that it’s safe for everyone to be there. I applaud their safety efforts, but some seem more rigorous than others. So today I want to talk about safety vs safety theater.
I honestly believe that most business owners want to keep their employees and customers or clients safe. But there are problems:
I want to start with the measures that we know will keep people safe and what that looks like in a business setting. Safety in a grocery store might look different than at a restaurant or bar, which will definitely look different than at a spa, or at a massage or chiropractic office. I’m going to limit myself to service and healthcare businesses since that’s what I know. Good safety measures include:
Social Distancing – The virus is spread via respiratory droplets which fall to the ground within 6 feet under normal circumstancesn although sneezes, coughs, singing, and yelling can propel them much further. Staying 6 feet away from other people (that you do not share living space with) is considered best practice among public health experts, virologists, and epidemiologists. Policies that support social distancing include:
No Handshakes or Hugs – Self-explanatory. You can’t practice social distancing while doing either of these.
Face Masks – Like I said above, this virus is spread via respiratory droplets. Face masks help contain your droplets so they don’t infect anyone else. Since we know that some people my have the virus but never have symptoms (be asymptomatic) and that people may have the virus up to 14 days prior to having symptoms (be presymptomatic) it’s important to stay masked when you’re around people you do not share living space with. Remember, while the mask may only provide a small amount of protection to you, the purpose of wearing one is to protect others. To be safe, look for policies that include all of the following:
Hand Washing or Use of Hand Sanitizer – We know that the best way to prevent the spread of the SARS CoV-2 virus (along with not touching your face) is frequent and thorough hand washing for at least 20 seconds. When hand washing isn’t an option, the use of hand sanitizer for a minimum of 20 seconds is the second best option. You should see policies like these:
Gloves – If the practitioner is going to do any type of work inside your mouth, they need to wash or sanitize their hands immediately before donning a new pair of disposable gloves. When finished, they need to take them off properly (meaning the end up inside out without actually touching the outer surface) and immediately wash or sanitize their hands before touching you again.
Goggles – If there’s going to be work done inside the mouth or near the jaw, or if your facemask will need to be removed for any reason, the practitioner needs to be wearing goggles, in addition to any eyeglasses they may normally wear.
Thorough and Frequent Disinfection – Although this virus is spread primarily through respiratory droplets while they’re still in the air, it is possible to contract the virus from inanimate objects. For this reason, treatment rooms will need to be properly and thoroughly disinfected (not just cleaned) before the first client of the day, between each client, and after the last client of the day. Feel free to ask about disinfection policies such as frequency of and items disinfected if they have not supplied you with that information in some way. Some of the surfaces that will need to be disinfected include:
Contactless payment options – We know that this virus can spread via contact with others or the things they’ve touched. This includes credit cards, credit card processing terminal key pads, as well as pens and styluses. Due to the nature of many credit card processing terminals and their associated contracts and costs, it may not be easy or financially feasible to add the ability to accept contactless payments if a business didn’t take them prior to the shut down. That said, there are many ways to mitigate the risk associated with taking payment. Some of them include:
Many businesses will engage in a bit of safety theater when they reopen, hopefully in addition to the necessary things I listed above. This doesn’t mean that they’re intentionally misleading you, it just means that these things don’t make us as safe as some people think. Here’s my short list of things that aren’t the best measure of safety:
Taking temperatures – Yes, one of the main symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever, or temperature greater than 100.4 degrees. However, this safety step only indicates whether someone has a fever, not whether they have and are shedding the SARS CoV-2 virus. While you definitely don’t want anyone in the building who has a fever, there is some debate on whether you can force someone to have their temperature taken if you’re not a doctor’s office offering care for the cause of their fever. So, taking temps is fine as long as everything in the safety section is also being done and people are not allowed in if they either have a fever or refuse to have their temperature taken. If that’s not the case, this is nothing more than theater.
Disinfecting shoes – Can we track the virus into building on the bottoms of our shoes? Yes. The question to ask is, how likely is a virus tracked in via shoes going to make us sick? Unless we’re licking our shoes or eating off the floor, it’s not likely; especially if the floor is being disinfected after every client. Yes, that means there’s no 5 second rule anymore. Sorry.
Muscle testing for COVID-19 infection – This is gonna be a hot button issue but it can’t be helped. First off, let me say that I’ve used muscle testing and had some good results with it when both parties were objective. However, muscle testing can be gamed or influenced both intentionally and unintentionally. I’ve intentionally tried to influence a test as both the tester and the testee, just to see if I could. Spoiler alert: I influenced it each and every time I tried. I’ve also unintentionally influenced the testing with my own biases. It would be SO easy for a struggling business owner or practitioner who needs to see as many clients as possible, to want/need their clients to be healthy so badly, that everyone tests strong/healthy. I know the testing situation out there is a far cry from what it should be in both quantity and quality, but this is not a replacement for an actual COVID-19 test. This is nothing more than theater. SorryNotSorry.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of safety measures that can be undertaken but it does cover the most common steps that owners and practitioners are taking to keep everyone safe. As more places open and you begin to venture out more, please be aware of which measures those businesses are taking and make an informed decision as to whether to return just yet.