Businesses that remain open to the public and manufacturing plants operating during this worldwide pandemic must remember social distancing still pertains to them, Green River District Health Department officials said.

“We’re trying to educate, persuade and make people understand the importance of compliance,” said Clay Horton, public health director.

The health department has received calls about businesses that continue to allow employees and the public to congregate. Businesses need to find a way to comply with the state’s current rules, Horton said.

Stores and plants must set up processes to make sure social distancing is observed. Managers and owners must remember all or part of their staffs could be quarantined for 14 days if an employee is diagnosed with the coronavirus.

“It’s a hardship now,” Horton said of social distancing guidelines. “But you are avoiding a bigger hardship later.”

In a recent order, Gov. Andy Beshear closed nonessential retail stores and manufacturing plants but left open key facilities and life-sustaining businesses, such as grocery, ag and home improvement stores. However, that executive order did not provide a blanket exception to all the rules, Horton said.

Manufacturing plants and retail stores that remain open must ask customers and employees to respect the 6-foot social distancing rule.

On Sunday, Beshear warned home improvement stores during his daily press conference. He said he’d heard reports of customers gathering and not obeying the 6-foot order.

“We’re going to have to ask that either those stores find a way to enforce social distancing or we’re going to have to see how essential they are,” the governor said.

During Monday’s press conference, Beshear said he had conversations with Lowe’s and Home Depot officials, who provided him with a list of ways in which they plan to address the problem.

For example, they pledged to limit the number of customers in stores, offer different check-out options and add social distancing messages to employees’ clothes.

The governor reminded the public part of the responsibility rests with customers.

“It’s also on us,” Beshear said. “If you pull up to a store and there’s a crowd, come back later.”

The governor’s office recently opened a KYSAFER hotline — 833-722-5725 — that allows the public to report noncompliant businesses. During the first 24 hours, the hotline received about 2,000 calls.

State officials review the complaints, but they funnel cases needing attention to regional health departments.

Horton offered some advice:

Businesses should encourage employees to stay home when they are sick — even when they haven’t tested positive for the virus.

Work stations that are not more than 6 feet apart are considered close-contact areas. When it comes to the coronavirus, close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 30 minutes while they are symptomatic or the two days before.

Employers need to remember workers who share rides to work are considered in close contact.

All employers — especially large ones — need to have a plan in place in case one of their workers is diagnosed with the coronavirus, Horton said. “Because it is likely to happen.”

Manufacturing plants and stores may want to follow Owensboro Health’s example. The health system uses an infrared no-touch thermometer to take employee temperatures at the door. OH officials don’t allow employees to come to work with a fever.

Businesses will never be criticized for being overly cautious at this time, Horton said.

“They have a responsibility to make sure all these other sacrifices are not being frustrated,” he said of businesses that remain open.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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