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For restaurants and their staff, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant having to master new, preventive health and safety measures

Now with experts predicting a rise in flu cases this season, restaurants will also need to educate their workers about ways to prevent the flu and cope with being sick.

At the same time, it’s important to remain alert to managing the pandemic, as part of a pro-active health and safety plan.

Flu season 2021 outlook

Flu season typically begins in October or November, peaks in the winter months and subsides in the spring.

COVID-19-related restrictions and habits last year led to a dramatic drop in cases of the flu. However, in a typical year several thousand Coloradans get seriously ill with the flu and end up in the hospital. And tens of thousands of people die each year nationwide.

The severity of this year’s flu outbreak is uncertain, but health experts urge extra caution.

A possible COVID-19 and flu “twindemic” could lead to capacity issues in hospitals — not to mention more financial hardship for restaurants, suppliers and their customers.

Follow these reminders to help keep your restaurant team and community healthy during flu season 2021.

1. Get a flu shot

If you or your staff haven’t gotten their flu shots, now’s the time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly vaccine as the single best way to avoid serious flu-related illness and curtail the spread.

Let your team know where they can get a shot, including local pharmacies and health providers. Or consider hosting a vaccine clinic at your restaurant during flu shot season.

This year, your employees may have new reservations about getting the flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC answers common questions, like if it’s safe to get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. (It is.)

2. Know the flu symptoms

You can share the most common signs of flu on posters or other communication methods in the kitchen or storeroom. Symptoms usually come on suddenly and include:

  • Fever and chills (not everyone gets a fever, though)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

3. Identify at-risk employees

Certain groups are more likely to develop the flu and medical complications.

Does your staff include people with diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or rheumatic conditions? Or is anyone pregnant or undergoing immunosuppressive therapy? You will want to encourage these team members to take extra care to avoid infection.

4. Tell sick workers to stay home

People can remain infectious for up to four days as the flu develops. A person is contagious during that entire time, so send employees home as soon as symptoms appear.

They should avoid contact with people until their fever has been gone for at least 24 hours. Antiviral drugs may help alleviate symptoms and shorten the illness.

Keep in mind that your workers, especially if there are staffing shortages, may not want to miss work.

Hearing their boss say it’s OK to take time off can reassure them during their recovery and helps increase overall restaurant safety.

5. Encourage frequent hand washing

Restaurant staff most likely know the handwashing drill by now, but managers should continue to emphasize the importance of washing hands with soap and water frequently during flu season.

As a backup for when hand washing is not immediately accessible, you can promote the use of hand sanitizer for employees and guests.

One way the flu spreads is when people come in contact with doorknobs, phones and other surfaces — and then touch their face.

For this reason, it’s so important to remind your team to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth — this is especially critical in a restaurant setting with so many high-touch surfaces.

6. Promote flu preventive measures

Working in a fast-paced restaurant can take a toll on your immune system if you don’t take care of yourself. These small actions can make a big difference for employee health and workplace safety:

  • Encourage your team to avoid people who are sick, and always cover their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze.
  • Wipe down high-touch surfaces more frequently as another important line of defense during flu season.
  • Provide plenty of disinfectant and wipes, and consider motion-sensor faucets and hands-free door openers.
  • Make sure to place tissues and hand sanitizer in multiple locations for workers and guests.
  • Remind your team to eat healthy, drink plenty of fluids, get adequate exercise and sleep, and minimize stress.

7. Stay informed

You can track cases during the 2021-2022 flu season in Colorado through the Department of Public Health & Environment. Is an outbreak creeping closer? Notify your employees, and amp up your preventative measures around the restaurant.

Finally, reassure your guests that you’re taking all necessary precautions to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Questions about preventing injuries at your Colorado restaurant?

Pinnacol Assurance has the largest and most experienced safety team in Colorado ready to help our customers identify and eliminate workplace hazards. Contact a Pinnacol safety consultant to learn more.

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