The CNMI is shifting its focus away from contact tracing pursuant to its new mission to prioritize treatment for those severely impacted by COVID-19, this time eliminating the need to record the temperatures of those entering a business establishment.
The Environmental Health Disease Prevention section of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. updated yesterday its guidance for restaurants, bars, businesses that are open to the public, and places of worship. These establishments will no longer be required to enforce contact tracing measures like maintaining records of temperature screenings and requiring customers to provide a point of contact for each party.
“Logbooks…have been something establishments were enforcing because they wanted to make sure their staff are safe. I don’t think we actually required that. We did it in the beginning before delta but as soon as delta came in, it was just too difficult,” said CHCC CEO Esther Muña.
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, so does the CNMI’s response, she said. In the beginning, the CNMI focused on contact tracing and protecting the borders. That strategy, she said, has worked out well for the CNMI as it gave the Commonwealth enough time to prepare and get its vaccination rates up. However, now that the delta and omicron variants of the COVID-19 virus have already made it past the CNMI’s borders, CHCC and the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force believe the mission has shifted to saving lives and ensuring that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed by the back-to-back surge in COVID-19 cases.
“About contact tracing, we’re shifting away from that. Imagine getting over 200 cases per day. That’s a lot of people to do contact tracing and yet we’re not identifying people who actually really need treatment. That’s why we’re shifting our focus. We need to be mindful that we’re also here to save lives. It’s no longer about identifying the initial case and figuring out how did they get it. That’s not our primary mission now,” Muña said.
According to the new guidelines, temperature screening of all employees and patrons prior to entering the establishment for dine-in services may continue, but the recording of temperatures is no longer required.
Establishments must instead enforce hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and use of well-fitted face masks by employees when near other employees and customers.
They must also ensure adequate supplies to support healthy hand hygiene practices for both employees and customers.
Establishments are also required to provide physical guides such as tape on floors or sidewalks to ensure that customers remain at least 6 feet apart in queues or ask customers to wait in their cars or away from the establishment while waiting to pick up food.
In addition, signs must be posted on how to stop the spread of COVID-19, how to properly wash hands, provide notice that no one with symptoms will be permitted inside, and how to properly wear a face covering.
Businesses must post “one-way” flow signs for entrance and “one-way” flow signs for exit to maintain crowd control, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, wash, rinse, and sanitize all surfaces which come in contact with food after each use.
Employers are responsible for sending employees with symptoms home.
Presetting tables must also be discontinued and condiments, utensils, and tableware must be removed from tables.
Restaurants/bars that offer dine-in services must ensure that patrons remain at least 6 feet apart and are encouraged to use outdoor seating whenever possible.
They must also offer self-service food or drinks, such as buffet style dining or beverage refill stations, with precautions in place like the use of disposable gloves and social distancing.