Businesses across the country have been forced to temporarily close or adjust operations in compliance with stay-at-home orders and social distancing regulations as government leaders strive to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Some industries have been impacted more than others, with movie theaters, restaurants, casinos and hotels and resorts among the hardest hit, while many office buildings across the nation have shuttered and shifted to remote workforces.
It’s vital for claims professionals to remain in close communication with clients during this time, not only to provide them with ongoing claims support, but also to offer risk mitigation guidance as they prepare to open to the public once again. A recent study found that SARS-CoV-2, the highly infectious virus that causes COVID-19, can live on surfaces anywhere from 24-72 hours. Even businesses that have never had a known infected person in their building will still need to thoroughly disinfect the structure and everything within it — and prove that it’s safe — before employees, customers or the public will feel comfortable coming back in the door.
Though the country might not widely reopen next month as anticipated, successful companies will proactively address their risks now in order to hit the ground running in the post-COVID-19 lockdown era. Here’s how to help clients in some of the most highly impacted businesses put an effective risk mitigation plan in place before reopening:
Encourage clients to have their buildings tested for traces of SARS-CoV-2 by a professional industrial hygienist using swabs and topical samples, and have them tested again once they’ve been cleaned. Knowing whether you have an infected building or not will inform risk mitigation protocols during the cleaning phase and help protect cleaning crews.
Companies that allow employees to handle cleaning may be held liable for any future infections that result from contact within their buildings, so it’s advisable to consult with IICRC-certified mitigation experts when crafting and executing a plan of action to reduce liability and ensure the health and safety of all involved. Though coverage of professional mitigation services will vary, failure to display due diligence on this matter may result in a greater long-term cost for clients.
Unlike standard cleaning procedures or pest-control protocols like fumigation or fogging, mitigation should be geared specifically toward ridding the building of this specific virus. It’s necessary to clean every surface type, material, product and piece of equipment within the building utilizing disinfectants approved by the EPA for use against SARS-CoV-2, while adhering to all appropriate regulations of governing bodies such as the CDC and OSHA.
Each client will have individual needs for mitigation specific to their industry and building type. Let’s look at a few:
Office buildings will need to disinfect high-touch surfaces like elevator buttons, door knobs, handrails and light switches, as well as desktops, computer keyboards, telephones and office equipment from staplers to copy machines. These businesses will also need to enact plans for maintaining continuity of business in the future while enacting their enhanced cleaning protocols. Unlike other public-facing industries, with a traditional office building, it’s possible to create certain areas of containment only accessible to mitigation or cleaning and restoration crews while rerouting public traffic through the building.
In addition to standard mitigation measures for the building and all surfaces within it — tables, chairs, handles, light switches, restrooms and more — restaurants must also consider kitchens and the food service equipment contained within them, possibly creating enhanced safe food handling procedures in their updated cleanliness protocols that meet FDA regulations. Because restaurants must ensure a sanitized environment before food can even return to the building, these clients won’t be able to maintain business while mitigation is in process.
Movie theaters face particular risk during the spread of COVID-19 because they feature upholstered seating, highly trafficked restrooms and other high-touch surfaces in an enclosed space that puts people in close proximity to one another for long periods of time. Not only do these considerations add a layer of complexity for disinfecting these buildings, in the case of dine-in movie theater chains, many theaters will also need to add restaurant-specific considerations to their mitigation plans.
Casinos have been significantly impacted by the pandemic on several fronts, from the amount of revenue that has quickly vanished, to the sheer number of detailed surfaces that will need to be disinfected before these businesses can reopen. (Cleaning millions of individual chips is no small task.) Clients in the casino industry will need to break their mitigation plans down into teams and sections with specific cleaning procedures for each aspect of their business, including the casino itself, restaurants and any additional sources of entertainment on the property, such as concert venue and retail shopping areas.
Hotels and Resorts
Just as casinos often contain multiple types of businesses and structures within one property, hotels and resorts can also contain casinos, restaurants, golf courses, spas, gyms, waterparks and more. These clients may have the most complex mitigation efforts of all. Not only will each individual building and business type require its own individual mitigation protocol, but hotels contain many more surfaces that patrons come into intimate contact with. Bed frames, mattresses, sheets, pillows, remote controls and bathtubs — all of these will need to be considered and properly addressed in a detailed mitigation plan.
Before any business reopens after the COVID-19 lockdowns, it will be critical to communicate with employees, clients, customers and the public about the steps the company has taken to disinfect the building of SARS-CoV-2, as well as their enhanced cleaning protocols. The key here is being proactive versus reactive. Encourage clients to use signage at prominent entrances, send informational emails, communicate on social media and update their company website in order to publicly and proactively communicate their mitigation efforts and commitment to safety.
Even when the economy “reopens,” it probably won’t be business as usual — at least not for a while. There will be new health risks and new concerns in the minds of consumers. Businesses who successfully navigate risk in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic will create detailed, industry-specific mitigation plans, engage experts to thoroughly disinfect their buildings with EPA-approved products and CDC-prescribed cleaning protocols, and engage in upfront, transparent communication to earn public trust during this uncertain time.
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