L.A. County Publicizes Outbreaks: What This Means for Your Restaurant

As more and more people test positive for COVID-19, others grow concerned about how to know if the restaurants they order dinner from are safe and healthy. L.A. County decided to assuage some of these fears by publicizing a list of restaurants in the area who have had “outbreaks,” that is, anyplace with multiple people showing symptoms of COVID-19 and at least one confirmed case, whether that means staff member or customer.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health executed the plan on April 30th. Along with restaurants, this list of infected “non-residential congregate settings” includes groceries, retail stories, outpatient health centers and other places of work. These reports supplement the existing list of “institutional settings” that have met the same criteria, meaning nursing homes, long-term treatment centers, shelters and prisons. Find the complete list of confirmed L.A. County COVID-19 cases here.

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This comes as the latest attempt to stop the spread of infection amongst the few business still open. Despite officials’ steadfast assertions that we have no evidence the virus can spread through food or shared surfaces, the general public remains concerned since there’s a lot still unknown about COVID-19. Though L.A. County endorses taking extra precautions, such as throwing out takeout containers immediately and washing your hands before and after eating delivery, publicizing this list will:

  • Protect employees who otherwise might not get immediate notice when a coworker falls ill. Publicly disclosing outbreaks keeps not only customers, but employees safe and informed so that they can choose to get tested, isolate or generally be more cautious. The list protects workers by letting them make decisions about their own welfare.
  • Acknowledge consumers’ rightful demands for information about COVID-19 outbreaks. Many people have called for the health department to inform them about confirmed cases. Especially considering the deadly and frankly unsure nature of this disease, people worry about getting exposed and subsequently infecting themselves or a loved one without knowing. They might also want to get tested or quarantine more stringently, warn everyone they’ve come in contact with since, and even check up on their favorite restaurants to confirm when it’s safe to go back.
  • Let people know about other potentially infectious diseases. People should be able to make an informed decision about where to eat and know all the potential consequences. Whether COVID-19 or just a cold, consumers believe they have a right to know if and when someone on the premises has been ill before they risk exposure. With this information publicized, businesses can’t hide anything and consumers can guarantee they’re taking the right steps and precautions.

The news of this list has led some restaurants to take extra pre-emptive action against infection. For example, washing their hands more often (for some restaurants this can mean nearly twenty times a day, whereas other places, such as Black Sheep Restaurants in Hong Kong, mandate hand washing every thirty minutes).  Food service and other establishments also require employees to wear masks at all times, encourage curbside pickup for food runners handling delivery and mandate that everyone wears gloves. All of this prevents germs from spreading to anything that might touch the food or pass the virus to a coworker, the delivery driver or the customer. Certain places even disinfect their takeout containers before sending them out.

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L.A. County Department of Public Health assures everyone that their list isn’t designed to shame businesses, and that outbreaks don’t mean that a restaurant wasn’t careful, mindful or clean enough. There’s much we still don’t know about COVID-19 or how it spreads, and even one asymptomatic carrier can unwittingly bring the disease somewhere that’s doing everything right. That is, after all, how the pandemic spreads to new cities, countries and continents. Thus the publicized list of infected institutions is merely informational and aimed at doing the most amount of good for the most amount of people. To this end, the website also provides information and resources on testing centers, quarantine and isolation orders, how to prevent infection, what to do when someone dies of the virus, healthcare services nearby and more. Knowledge is power.

What can your restaurant do to promote the health and safety of everyone in their community? If you’re worried about what public declarations mean for your restaurant, err on the side of caution. Whatever your concerns may be about how being on this list may affect your reputation, ultimately it’s for the good of L.A. County as a whole to provide consumers with information about their own health and safety so that we can all hep curb the spread of this virus.

Whether other places will follow suit and similarly disclose this kind of information remains to be seen. For now, check L.A. County’s list of confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks to ensure that you make the best decisions for yourself and your family before going to or ordering from a restaurant. Together we can prevent more cases and ensure that everyone is as safe and informed as possible. While we continue learning about COVID-19, spreading all the information we know is the best way to weather and curb this pandemic moving forward.

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