Coronavirus

A 60-hour mission: Essential businesses scramble to draft, post and implement protocols

Cristina Smith
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Cristina Smith, one of the owners of State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria, posts required protocols for mitigating the spread of the coronavirus in the Los Altos restaurant’s windows Friday morning.

Local essential businesses are adapting to updated health and safety protocols as health officials seek to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Based on revisions to the six-county shelter-in-place order, essential businesses were directed to adopt, display and distribute a “social distancing protocol,” a plan specifically outlining the ways in which companies would ensure safe and sanitary conditions for staff and customers, by Thursday (April 1) at 11:59 p.m.

The County of Santa Clara Public Health Department provided an online template for businesses and gave business owners approximately 60 hours to customize a plan to fit their operational model. The template includes guidance on employee health safety checks and ensuring social distancing between employees and customers.

According to LuLu’s catering manager Roxanne Mein, the Los Altos Village Association contacted the restaurant’s Los Altos staff April 1 to notify them of the new requirement to post protocols. By the next day, the restaurant had posted its protocol while simultaneously working on the sales side of business by creating a family dinner menu.

“We have placed tape on the floor to separate 6-foot distance, removed bulk self-serve utensils and educated all of our staff about proper social distancing,” Mein said. “We have removed our self-serve salsa bar, we have stacked our chairs and tables to discourage congregating within the restaurant, reiterated to all teams the need for consistent and proper handwashing, enhanced cleaning procedures beyond requirements and brought extra attention to the sanitizing stations we have in all restaurants.”

LuLu’s owner Natalie Richardson foresees no challenges with the protocol.

“We’re following the rules to keep everyone safe while picking up their food,” she said. “If we can maintain our takeout volume at a sustainable level, we can weather the storm. We are taking all of the precautions to comply with the order and its continual updates.”

Big-brand businesses

Walgreens communication manager Megan Boyd said signage had already been posted in all pharmacy waiting areas to ensure customers observe the 6-foot rule, and the store laid out “social distancing lines” 6 feet from all checkout counters and near the front doors, instituted deeper cleaning of stores and provided additional protective equipment like gloves to employees. Walgreens, she said, would follow all federal, state and local health advisories.

Boston Private public relations director Lucy Muscarella said Friday the Los Altos office is complying with the county’s order and will post a copy of the protocol document.

“The emotional, physical and financial health of our clients and employees is our top concern,” Muscarella said. “We are taking every precaution to keep our community safe and continuing to serve our clients’ evolving needs with a high level of service.”

Erich Timmerman, media relations director for Chase Bank, which has a Los Altos branch on Main Street, said the bank’s protocol should be posted by Friday and it will work to follow all required aspects of the order.

Chase Bank is supporting employees with efforts such as adjusting branch hours, continuing to pay workers for their regularly scheduled hours even when those hours are reduced and enhancing its cleaning routines.

Bank of the West executive vice president Ryan Bailey told the Town Crier that the county notified his corporation of the protocol requirement and that it worked to modify, post and give employees a copy. The Bank of the West branch on Main Street has been temporarily changing branch functions to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bailey said branches with drive-up access are now allowing customers inside the lobby by appointment only. Branches without drive-ups have transitioned to a controlled entrance method that admits customers as needed. The Bank of the West location on First Street received approval from the city to reopen its old drive-up lanes, employee Shawn Lin said Friday.

Both Chase and Bank of the West representatives said they are encouraging customers to bank online through their respective apps as much as possible to limit exposure through direct contact.

National standards

Although defined by public health officials as an “essential” service, mail carriers like the U.S. Postal Service must abide by federal social distancing protocol requirements. Communications representative Augustine Ruiz said signs with the protocols are posted in all post offices.

Procedures for both post offices and mail carriers have been altered since the first version of the shelter-in-place order to encourage social distancing. The updates include limiting the number of customers in a post office to 10 at a time, installing plastic barriers at service counters to protect both postal workers and customers, requiring mail carriers to knock on doors rather than ring doorbells and directing carriers to place packages on the doorstep rather than handing them to the recipient.

Doing their best

Some business owners are resolving to do their best.

“We are still figuring out how the new protocols will affect us and what we need to do to modify business,” State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria owner Lars Smith said in an email to the Town Crier. “As with the previous orders, we have only seen what you have. We have not been given any specific or direct information from the county. We will certainly do our best to be in compliance with all requirements by Friday if we are not already.”

State of Mind now offers only curbside service, Smith said, an effort to minimize person-to-person contact. Staff also sanitizes all high-touch surfaces multiple times a day and has modified the kitchen setup to limit employee contact.

Los Altos economic development coordinator Anthony Carnesecca has been fielding questions from businesses and providing them with resources to help them draft and implement a protocol.

“All essential businesses should do their best to get the social-distancing protocol completed and up tomorrow in order to keep employees and customers safe, healthy, and six feet apart,” Carnesecca said in an email Thursday night. “The Los Altos Police Department will begin direct outreach and education to essential businesses in order to ensure that they are in compliance with their newly posted social distancing protocol, which should be displayed at every public-facing entrance and provided to every employee. … The police department will focus on educating and connecting directly with businesses in order to ensure that all of Los Altos meets compliance for the newest county order.”

The city of Los Altos is regularly updating a resource page for business owners at bit.ly/2X67TZW.

For more information on the updated shelter-in-place order, visit bit.ly/3dPJ6PH.

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