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Coronavirus in Spokane-area businesses: What you need to know

Should I get tested if a coworker is positive? Should my business close for a positive case? Here's what health experts say.

SPOKANE, Wash. — As coronavirus continues to spread in the Inland Northwest, several businesses and restaurants have seen cases or outbreaks.

\In the Spokane area, outbreaks have included the Philadelphia Macaroni Company in Spokane Valley, and more recently, 24 cases linked to Borracho Tacos & Tequileria downtown.

This has led to many questions about what businesses and employees can or should do if someone in their business tests positive for the novel coronavirus.

For employees

Should I get tested if a coworker tests positive?

According to Spokane Regional Health District spokesperson Kelli Hawkins, if the health district informs you that you are at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to close proximity to someone who has tested positive, you should contact your healthcare provider about getting tested.

The health district may also deem it necessary for all employees to get tested depending on the circumstances of the outbreak and would recommend all employees be tested, Hawkins said.

For people without a health provider in Spokane, Hawkins said anyone in the community can get tested at a CHAS clinic.

Other times employees should get tested is if they are concerned about personal risk, if they could pose a risk to a family member, or if face mask use or social distancing in their workplace “is not ideal,” according to Hawkins.

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What should I do if my workplace remains open after a positive test or outbreak?

In addition to getting tested if advised to by the health district, Hawkins said employees should continue to follow coronavirus guidelines even if there isn’t a positive test in their workplace. These guidelines include social distancing, the use of face masks or coverings when possible, regular hand washing, clean surfaces that are often touched and staying home when sick.

Health district officials also encourage employees to talk with their employers about implementing further preventative measures in the workplace.

Should I stay home if someone I worked with tested positive?

If you aren’t contacted by the health district or your employer about being in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus and your workplace remains open, Hawkins said you can stay at work. But if you are contacted by the health district or your employer and told you had close contact with someone who has tested positive, you will be asked to get tested for coronavirus and stay in quarantine for 14 days, according to Hawkins.

Workers who weren’t identified as having close contact can continue to work so long as they monitor themselves for symptoms and face masks are worn at all times, Hawkins said.

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If you are in a high-risk group for COVID-19, such as being over the age of 65 or having underlying health conditions, you should contact your doctor about continuing to work if a case of coronavirus is identified in your workplace.

Can I report my employer anonymously if a coworker tests positive and cleaning/distancing protocols aren’t being followed?

Anyone who has concerns about their employers’ compliance with Governor Jay Inslee’s coronavirus guidelines and regulations can report their concerns anonymously on the state’s coronavirus website. Safety complaints can also be made with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

For employers/business owners

What should I do if one or multiple employees tests positive for coronavirus? Should I close for cleaning? If so, for how long?

Hawkins said any business who has an employee test positive or an outbreak should consult with public health officials as every situation has unique circumstances.

Should an employer require all employees to get tested if a worker receives a positive result?

Hawkins said that every situation is unique, but there are some caveats true for all cases.

Customers or employees who are part of a high-risk group will have a higher chance of needing to be tested, Hawkins said, and if the business has poor compliance with social distancing and the use of face masks or coverings, it will be more likely that testing will be recommended. Also, Hawkins said the more positive tests from a business, the more likely testing will be needed.

If it is found that an employee was infectious while at work, Hawkins said the health district will generally start by testing employees who shared a workspace with that person. If additional positive tests are identified or proper safety measures aren’t in place, she said the district will recommend expanding who should get tested.

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What happens if a business is found to not have followed sanitation and/or distancing protocols?

Spokane Regional Health District staff will work with businesses to try to ensure their employees are safe during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Hawkins, and the Washington State Department of Occupational Safety and Health also consults with businesses to ensure proper safety guidelines are followed.

Health district staff also will provide “technical assistance consultations” to businesses, especially those that have a positive case, according to Hawkins. This involves discussing previously implemented protocols along with additional protocols that can be used, Hawkins said.

Topics discussed in these consultations could include

  • potential modes of coronavirus transmission
  • screening employees at a single-entry point
  • the use of face masks
  • cleaning and disinfecting high-contact surfaces and common-use items
  • social distancing guidelines
  • strategies to prevent the need for cleaning surfaces and items between uses
  • improvements to ventilation
  • employee education

Technical assistance is also available through Washington L&I’s Department of Occupational Health and Safety, Hawkins said. The state also has a website for businesses with resources and a place to ask questions.

Hawkins said the most challenging area for many businesses is social distancing in break or lunch rooms, but removing or rearranging chairs, implementing shields, and reducing the number of people taking breaks at the same time can help.

In addition to these discussions, the health district e-mails links to resources from the state Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the EPS, Washington L&I, and the Washington State Governor’s Office, Hawkins said.

Do you have more questions? Email us at newstips@krem.com. 

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