COVID-19 FAQs for Northampton Businesses

Resources for Local Businesses

Management FAQs

Should I have a COVID policy for my business?

Yes, use the tools given to you by your local health department to develop a policy that fits your business that keeps staff and the public safe. Designate a manager for employees to contact for any questions regarding your Covid policy, so information is consistent and most up to date.

Where can I find information about the new COVID-19 paid leave for workers, and tax credits for small and mid-sized businesses?

COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program | Mass.gov 

What is the best way to help support the local mask mandate and keep staff and the public safe?

● Ensure both guests and staff are wearing recommended masks while inside your business. 

● Post informational signage encouraging guests to wear masks at all times, when not actively consuming food or beverages. 

● Consider not allowing guests to move about your establishment, i.e. dance floor and bar areas with beverages. 

What is the best practice for sick time?

● Implement and support flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices. ● Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible, non-punitive, and consistent with public health guidance. 

What is the best way to keep staff up to date with the constant changes directed by CDC and our local board of health?

● Be aware of the importance of training and the need to communicate new policies that help keep staff and the public safe. This would include communicating with non-english employees in their preferred language. 

Can employers send employees home if they develop symptoms of a COVID-19 infection?

● Yes. An employer should not allow a sick employee to remain at work. Employers should have a plan in place for sending people home. The procedures must be uniformly applied to all staff. 

Who do I notify when an employee reports a positive test result?

● Important: The privacy and confidentiality of the person who tested positive for COVID-19 must always be maintained. 

● Employers should have a plan in place that includes a protocol for quickly identifying workplace contacts of employees with COVID-19 who worked while infectious. 

● To begin the notification process, speak with the employee diagnosed with COVID-19 and ask about: 

  1. Use the isolation time frame chart provided by the health department to determine the start and end of the isolation period. 
  2. Determine when they worked while infectious
  3. If they participate in any work-related carpooling 
  4. Who they interacted with during work activities and breaks 

● Notify any employees who were within 6 feet for more than fifteen minutes from two days before the employee with COVID-19 developed symptoms OR two days before their positive test if the employee with a positive COVID-19 test did not have symptoms. 

Use the quarantine guidance provided by the health department to determine if an employee should quarantine. 

● It is in the best interest of employers that workplace notifications be completed quickly to help prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace. 

● Workplace contacts should self-observe for symptoms for 10 days following their last exposure to the person with COVID-19. 

● If the contact develops symptoms, they should self-isolate and seek testing. 

Facility Sanitation 


Will I have to close to do a full sanitation cleaning if there is a positive case at my business? 

● No, The health department recommends “best practice” would be to continue cleaning and sanitizing often as part of daily routine with extra focus on high touch areas. 

● Conducting these practices routinely will also help curb the spread of other infectious illnesses such as the norovirus, flu and RSV. 

What can I do to maintain a safe environment for guests and staff? 

● Increase ventilation indoors (eg. HVAC filtration systems, opening windows and doors, etc), thorough and frequent hand hygiene and staying home and testing when sick continue to be valuable prevention tools. These tools reduce COVID-19 transmission, as well as the spread of other infectious illnesses such as the flu and RSV. 

CDC Ventilation Guidelines

Staff Hygiene

Are Hand Sanitizers better than soap and water? 

● Handwashing with soap and warm water is the most effective way of removing germs; they bond and wash down the drain with soapy lather. 

● Sanitizer should only be used in place of soap and water when a hand sink and soap are not available. 

Do hand sanitizers lose their effectiveness if you use them often? 

● Alcohol-based sanitizer does not create antibiotic resistance. Unlike other antiseptics and antibiotics, pathogens (harmful germs) do not seem to develop resistance to alcohol-based sanitizers. 

Do Covid-19 guidelines require that food handlers use gloves at all times? 

● No, gloves can increase the risk of transferring germs from one surface to another, and contaminating your hands when removing them. 

● See: Food Code 2017 - §3-302.15 no bare contact with ready to eat foods. 

● Wearing gloves does NOT replace washing your hands.

COVID-19 Symptoms 

How can I promote employees to stay on top of their health status? 

● Require employees who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to stay home. Include daily health attestation for staff. Have a policy in place if an employee becomes sick while at work. 

Can thermometer scanners detect COVID-19? 

● No, thermal scanners are effective in detecting people who have a fever (i.e. have a higher than normal body temperature). They cannot detect people who are infected with COVID-19. There are many causes of fever, and a large proportion of individuals will not have a fever at any point while infected with COVID-19. 

Virus Transmission

Can someone without symptoms still spread the virus? 

● Yes, you can still spread the virus through asymptomatic (no symptoms) and pre-symptomatic transmission. 

Can someone who has recovered from Covid-19 still spread the virus? 

● As long as time-based and symptom-based criteria have been met to leave isolation, those who have recovered from the virus cannot transmit infection. 

How is COVID-19 transmitted? 

● COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air by tiny respiratory particles that contain the virus. These infectious particles are dispersed into the air when a person carrying the coronavirus breathes, talks, sings, coughs or sneezes. 

Can an individual still spread the virus if they are vaccinated and boosted? 

● Yes, the CDC has confirmed that anyone, even fully vaccinated and boosted, can spread the virus to others, even if they don’t have symptoms. Individuals who are up to date on vaccines are at a reduced risk for initial infection but can transmit the virus if infected. 

● Vaccines continue to be effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. 

If I have been exposed and tested positive for COVID-19 and gone through my isolation, can I still become positive and sick again? How soon after a previous exposure? 

● You can be re-infected with COVID-19. The risk for reinfection increases as time passes since initial infection and as new variants of the virus emerge. You are unlikely to become re-infected within 90 days of your initial infection. However, if you develop new symptoms of infection within 90 days, you should stay home and may be advised to seek testing and/or contact your provider. 

Can COVID-19 virus spread on fresh fruits and vegetables? 

● Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. However, other harmful diseases can be transmitted through food. Before preparing or eating food, it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety. If you are feeling ill, you should not be preparing food for others. 

Does the virus survive on surfaces?

● Rarely, the virus may be spread by touching high-touch surfaces like light switches, door knobs or handrails and then touching your face, mouth or eyes. Make sure to disinfect high-touch surfaces frequently, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often. 

What is the best mask to wear to prevent the spread of COVID-19? 

● Masking is a critical public health tool for preventing spread of COVID-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask. 

● To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, CDC continues to recommend that you wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently. 

● "When worn consistently and properly," the agency wrote on its website, N95 & KN95 respirators (masks) "provide the highest level of protection from particles, including the virus that causes COVID-19." 

● Surgical masks when worn properly still are recommended for protection from COVID-19 Vaccine 

What is considered fully vaccinated now? 2 doses or 2 doses and a booster? 

Fully vaccinated: means having received the primary series of vaccine. This means two doses of an mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) OR a single does of J&J/Janssen 

Up to date: 

○ Terminology consistent with what is used with other vaccines 

○ Having received all vaccines you are currently eligible for 

■ example: Had two doses of Pfizer more than 5 month ago and have gotten a booster 

■ example: had a single dose of J&J/Janssen less than 2 months ago 

What are the benefits of being vaccinated and boosted? 

● While those who are up to date on COVID-19 vaccines may have breakthrough infections, vaccines continue to prove effective in reducing the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Preventing illness is easier and more effective than treating and curing illness once it occurs. 

What is the benefit of being boosted? 

● Studies show after getting vaccinated against COVID-19, protection against the virus and the ability to prevent infection with variants may decrease over time and due to changes in variants. 

● Although COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in preventing severe disease. Recent data suggests their effectiveness at preventing infection or severe illness wanes over time, especially in people ages 65 years and older. 

● The CDC has recently released information on the effectiveness of booster shots against the Omicron variant. 

Isolation/Quarantine 

What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

● Isolation is for people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate themselves from others to prevent the spread of the virus. The strict isolation period is 10 days by default to account for the full infectious period of the virus, but may be shortened to as few as 5 days should specific criteria be met. 

● Quarantine is for people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Individuals who are exposed to COVID-19 and are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines should quarantine. Individuals who are exposed and symptomatic should quarantine regardless of vaccination status. Quarantine is 10 days by default to account for the incubation period of the virus, but most people will incubate the virus within 5 days. Therefore strict quarantine may be shortened to 5 days if specific criteria are met. 

● Anyone who meets criteria to leave isolation or quarantine must wear a securely fitting mask at all times around others for the full 10 days. 

● More detailed information: mass.gov/isol8 

When is testing recommended after someone develops symptoms?

● Within the first 24-48 hours 

● If someone tests negative on an antigen test and they are experiencing symptoms, they should either retest using an antigen test in another 24-48 hours or get a PCR test 

● As a reminder, people should isolate pending the results of testing AND should just generally stay at home when they are sick even if it is not COVID 

What is the difference between an antigen test (rapid test) or a PCR test? 

● There are two major types of tests that are used to diagnose infection of COVID-19. Each detects a different part of the virus, and how it works influences the test’s speed and relative accuracy. 

○ An Antigen (rapid test) is a home test and can give you results in 15 minutes. If you test positive with a rapid test, consider yourself positive and follow isolation protocol. For most tests a positive specimen will give two pink/purple colored lines. This means that COVID-19 antigens were detected. Antigens (proteins) are on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. Specimens with low levels of antigen may give a faint sample line. Any visible pink/purple line is positive. Antigen tests have a higher rate of false-negatives. False negative means the test does not detect COVID even though the patient has it. 

○ A PCR test can be obtained at a community testing site. Test results are typically provided in 24-48 hours depending on test demand. A PCR test works by directly detecting the viral genetic material (RNA). PCR tests have a lower rate of false-negative results and are more accurate. Due to their high sensitivity, PCR tests may remain positive for up to 90 days post infection. This does not necessarily indicate ongoing infection or contagiousness. 

Why is the contagious period shorter now than it was at the beginning of the pandemic? 

● The infectious or contagious period for the virus has not changed. People can be infectious up to 10 days after symptom onset. 

  • Severely ill or immune compromised people may be infectious longer 
  • People are most infectious just before symptom onset and for the several days after 
  • People are less infectious days 6-10 and this is addressed by the recommendation to mask during that time. 
  • Isolation periods may only be shortened to 5 days if symptoms have significantly resolved and fever is completely resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications.

What is day zero? If someone tests positive on 1/1/22 but develops symptoms on 1/3/22, what is their day 0? 

● Day 0 is the first day of symptom onset or the date the positive test was taken, whichever is earlier 

What does "symptoms improving" mean specifically? 

● Have to be fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine and other symptoms are improving 

● This is somewhat subjective but if people do not feel well enough to resume normal activities, they should not. 

Do you need a negative test to return to work?

● It is not required. However, vaccinated or unvaccinated, an employer can require a negative test result 48 hours before turning to work. 

What if someone still tests positive after 10 days? 

● This is very common. People who have tested positive for COVID-19 are very likely to continue to test positive after 10 days. But they are not contagious. People who have tested positive or who have been sick with COVID-19 often continue to test positive for up to three months. Even after your immune system neutralizes a virus (COVID-19 or almost any other virus), bits and pieces of the virus’s genetic material remain in your body — like DNA evidence left at a crime scene. These little viral remnants degrade over time. They can’t harm you, and they can’t infect anyone else, but they can cause you to continue to test positive. The CDC recommends that people not be retested for 90 days unless they have new symptoms. Given the above information it is suggested that an employer should not require that you test negative in order to go back to work. 

If I don’t have symptoms and test positive can I still expose other people to COVID-19? 

● Yes 

I have been in close contact with someone who has COVID. What does that mean ? 

● “Close contact” refers to time you spent directly with an infected person. This means you were within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period. The 15 minutes do not need to be at the same time. For example, three separate 5-minute exposures over the course of a day would total a 15-minute exposure. If you were in close contact with an infected person, you could be notified either by the person, by a school, an employer or by the health department, though community contact tracing efforts have recently been reduced. 

What symptoms would exclude you from going back to work after isolation? 

● You should remain out of work until symptoms have significantly improved and fever has completely resolved for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications. 

After testing positive and completing isolation, what symptoms are acceptable to return to work? 

● Individuals may have some residual symptoms such as lingering infrequent cough, fatigue, and loss of taste or smell. These symptoms do not indicate continued infection if symptoms have otherwise significantly improved. 

How do I determine what the right protocol is if I live with someone who has tested positive and I cannot “reasonably” isolate? 

● It can be understandably difficult or impossible to fully isolate individuals in your home or another residential setting. If you have continuous exposure to someone in your home with COVID-19, your quarantine/monitoring period must be prolonged to account for this exposure. 

● On your last day of exposure to the individual(s) with COVID-19, you should begin a continued 10 day period of quarantine/monitoring if you have not already become symptomatic or tested positive. If you become symptomatic and/or test positive, you should adhere to the isolation protocol. 

● It is recommended that you test frequently (every 3 days) throughout your exposure if you have continued exposure, regardless of vaccination status. 

What does continued exposure mean? Ex: when I am living in a home where there are 4 occupants and one tests positive?

● If you are unable to fully isolate yourself from individual (s) in your household who are sick, you have continued exposure to the virus and your risk for infection increases significantly. 

If there is a positive case in our business, should I notify the health department? 

● You are not required to report positive cases to the health department. 

● As an employer, you should update your COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control 

plans/policy. All employers should implement and update as necessary a plan that: 

  • Is specific to your workplace. 
  • Identifies all areas and job tasks with potential exposures to COVID-19
  • Includes control measures to eliminate or reduce such exposures. 
  • Provides tools to determine isolation & quarantine protocols 
  • Provides tools to determine close contacts and close contact protocol based on vaccination status 
  • If you have questions about how to proceed with a workplace exposure, you can contact the health department with questions 

Can employers require employees to obtain clearance from LBOH (local board of health) to return to work? 

● No, the department of public health explicitly states that DPH does not require clearance letters and that neither DPH or LBOH provide those letters. Employees who need to obtain any return -to-work letters from their healthcare providers. 

Best Practices 

How can I protect myself? 

● Get vaccinated and stay up to date on vaccination by getting a booster when eligible. ● Wear a high quality, well fitting mask - if possible; surgical masks, KN95 masks or N95s ● Stay 6’ away from others as much as is feasible 

● Avoid crowds & poorly ventilated spaces 

● Get tested to prevent spread to others 

● Wash your hands often and thoroughly with warm water and soap 

● Monitor your health daily, keeping a low threshold for new symptoms ● Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose 

At Work: 

● Spend less time with guests. Consider asking guests to signal if they need something by placing the menu on the corner of the table rather than frequently returning to check on your guests. 

● Limit contact with other employees as much as possible. 

● Follow businesses Covid-19 policy and procedures. 

At Home: 

● Do not share drinks or food. 

● Follow all current guidance about mask wearing and social gatherings. ● Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before you eat. 

● Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. 

● Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 

● Cover your cough and sneezes with a tissue and discard it in a closed container. ● Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects. 

● When not feeling well, isolate yourself from others in the home and seek testing when available. 

Testing:

● If you have new symptoms of illness, no matter how mild, get tested.

● If you only have access to home antigen tests, make sure you adhere to manufacturer directions to increase the accuracy of results. 

Home Testing 

I had a positive home test. What should I do? 

● Because of their lower sensitivity, antigen tests are much less likely to produce false positives than they are to produce false negatives. If you have a positive test, no matter how faint the test line is, you should immediately begin isolating. 

Isolation guidance

My home test was positive. How do I report my test to the department of public health/local health department? 

● At this time, home tests are not reported to or tracked by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health 

● Your local health department can still provide you with support via guidance and resources in response to a positive result 

My home test was positive. Should I get a PCR test? 

● You are in no way required to follow up on a positive home test with a PCR test ● If you decide to retest with a PCR test because you suspect your test is a false positive, note that your PCR test should be obtained within 2 days of your positive home test in order to overrule your positive home test. Until you have a negative PCR result in hand, you should remain in isolation. 

● You may however want a more official record of your positive test for your medical records, travel requirements, pre-procedure test requirements, etc 

I have symptoms, but my home test was negative. Does this mean that I don’t have COVID? 

● Home antigen tests are not as sensitive as molecular tests such as the PCR test, and may not detect the virus - especially early on in infection. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should obtain a PCR test if possible 

● If you only have a home antigen test, it may be advisable to wait until you have had symptoms for a couple days before testing, and stay home in the meantime. ● If you have symptoms and no known exposure but continue to test negative, it is prudent to stay home at least until you are fever free and your other symptoms have significantly improved for at least 24 hours without medication 

● If you have symptoms and known exposure to the virus but continue to test negative, you should continue to isolate per the Massachusetts COVID-19 isolation protocol: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-isolation-and-quarantine-guidance-for-the-general-public 

I was exposed to COVID-19 and my home test was negative. What should I do?

● If you have symptoms and known exposure to the virus but test negative on a home test, you should continue to isolate per the Massachusetts COVID-19 isolation protocol: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-isolation-and-quarantine-guidance-for-the-general-public 

● If you are asymptomatic and test negative with a home test, you should continue to follow the most appropriate exposure and quarantine protocol based on your vaccination status 

What are home antigen tests looking for? 

● Antigen tests are designed to detect antigens, a specific type of protein, on the surface of the virus. 

● It is very important that you follow manufacturer instructions when using these tests; each type of test will have its own directions and materials, though antigen tests typically include a nasal swab, reagent, and testing strip 

Easy Resource Guide 

Northampton COVID-19 Guidance and Surveillance Data 

Northampton Health Department COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics 

 Isolation and Quarantine Guidance 

● Massachusetts COVID-19 Surveillance Data

Find a COVID-19 Test 

Order Free At-Home Tests (USPS) 

Insurance Reimbursement for Home Antigen Tests 

Do you have another question you don’t see on this list? Please email any questions related to restaurant / business best practices and COVID-19 to Amy Hutchins at ahutchins@northamptonma.gov.