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Employers are required to report COVID-19 cases

State requires businesses to report new COVID-19 cases

KENT COUNTY, Michigan — As restaurants and other businesses begin to re-open many are wondering what to, now, expect should an employee or customer test positive for COVID-19. That's a scenario Kent County Health Department officials say we should anticipate happening.

"Yes and we would hope employers will let us know if they do identify an employee in their facility who tests positive for COVID-19," says Brian Hartl, the epidemiology supervisor for the Kent County Health Department. 

He says Governor Gretchen Whitmer's current executive order requires businesses and employers to notify local health departments of positive cases. In many situations the KCHD would likely be aware of those cases through their reporting systems.

"But, we are really appreciate that extra heads up and it gives us an opportunity to talk through the situation with that employer to identify any close contacts that employee has had within the work site and other risks that are occurring within the facility and ways to prevent exposures within that business or that restaurant," says Hartl.

He says those steps would likely include quarantine or isolation periods for the people infected, but not necessarily, for the entire business.

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"When we do an investigation into a case what we are looking at is the risk for others in the facility," he says. "If we do have a case in a place of business we will be contacting that business to identify who that individual is, getting a sense of the nature of their job and getting a sense of who they may have been in contact with during the time they were infectious. I don't think every situation requires a shutdown and a deep cleaning and that kind of stuff. I think it will really be on a case-by-case basis to determine the risk in that situation as to what our response efforts will be."

Sara Simmonds, the environmental health director, says the KCHD has been working with restaurants and businesses with food licenses to help them meet new standards. She says that outreach will continue in the upcoming months.

"Regardless of whether there's COVID-19 or not, food safety is one of the most important things that we do in our community in terms of public health," she says. "We will remain as vigilant as we were before, if not more vigilant in making sure these perfect that these regulatory items are being met, but we would also want to be a partner to the restaurant community because there may be things that they don't know. Instead of only being a hammer or a tool of enforcement we also want to be a tool of education."

Both Hartl and Simmonds hope, as businesses continue to re-open, people will continue to maintain safety precautions that have been in place for the past three months.

"A large part of it is educating our community on the precautions they need to take to protect themselves," says Simmonds.

"You know wearing masks, keeping your distance from other people, not staying in prolonged contact with someone in close proximity," says Hartl. "Remember, this infection is transmitted through close contact through respiratory droplets that can move within six feet of each other. So, if you think about any place where there is really close contact with other people, those are the highest risk areas. I think a lot of businesses have taken this into account."

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