What is a COVID-19 variant?

It is a variant of the coronavirus strain SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19. Viruses often mutate. This happens with the flu (influenza) as well.  When a specific set of mutations is identified across multiple coronaviruses, they are collectively referred to as a variant. (source, source)

Why are COVID-19 variants a concern?

Some COVID-19 variants pose an increased health risk. Scientists believe they may have the following impact (source):

  • more easily contractable
  • cause more severe disease if contracted
  • require different treatments or vaccines

Which COVID-19 variants are emerging in the U.S.?

Three variants that have spread globally are now present in the U.S: B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1.

The N501Y mutation, which is believed to help the virus bind to cells easier, has been identified in all three variants. The E484K mutation, which is believed to enable greater resistance to antibody drug therapies, has also been identified to varying degrees in all three variants (source)

  1. B.1.1.7. - Originally identified in the U.K. in the fall of 2020 and first detected in the U.S. in December 2020 (source), experts believe this variant spreads easier and may come with an increased risk of death if contracted. A February 7th study shows this variant has an increased transmission rate of up to 45% (source). As of Feb 24, 2021, cases have been reported in 45 states. B.1.1.7. is currently the most widespread variant of SARS-CoV-2. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are reportedly 95% effective against B.1.1.7 (source)
  2. B.1.351 - Originally identified in South Africa in December 2020 and first detected in the U.S. in January 2021, cases of this variant have been reported in 15 states as of Feb 25, 2021 (source). All indications are that B.1.351 can re-infect those previously infected (source), and current vaccines have proven less effective against B.1.351 in preliminary trials (source). Moderna and Pfizer are developing a booster shot designed specifically to neutralize this variant (source).
  3. P.1 - Originally discovered in travelers from Brazil in December 2020 and first detected in the U.S. in January 2021, this variant has been detected in just 5 states as of Feb 25, 2021 (source). As the latest arrival to U.S. shores, details about this variant's characteristics are still being researched but it's assumed that P.1 is more easily transmitted than the original SARS-CoV-2 strain and can be contracted by someone who's been previously infected or vaccinated. (source, source)

Follow the CDC's Emerging Variant U.S. Map

What are common safety guidelines for restaurants?

Wear a mask, ideally two

By providing masks and/or communicating the latest guidelines on mask-wearing, you keep your staff and customers safe. It's recommended that everyone at work wear a mask when indoors or outdoors. This is especially true when working around individuals and employees you don't live with. Multi-layered cloth masks are effective. Using a disposable mask under the multi-layered cloth mask is better. A nose wire, a brace, and knotting the ear loops of your mask help to ensure respiratory droplets don't enter or escape your mask. (source, source, source)

Keep a safe physical distance and maintain air flow

Maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet when in public helps to minimize transmission of COVID-19. Distance is particularly important in crowded public spaces like bars, fitness centers, theaters and restaurants. Increasingly, proper ventilation indoors has become a focus of lawmakers and health experts. Air circulation minimizes the airbone concentration of the virus which can in turn reduce transmission rates (source). In January, Washington state asked restaurants to install CO2 monitors to track air flow quality as a condition of resuming indoor dining (source). More recently, the city of Philadelphia instituted air ventilation requirements as a requisite indoor dining (source).

Acknowledge employee mental health

As we approach the 1-year mark of the pandemic, mental health is top of mind across industries and communities. Frontline workers in particular have had to adjust to new safety protocols and hazardous work environments. When mental health is addressed, employee safety in the workplace improves. Here are some recommendations to help relieve stress, some of which can be incorporated in the workplace (source, source):

  • Moderate your consumption of pandemic-related media
  • Prioritize your physical health - get rest, eat healthy, exercise regularly, limit alcohol and tobacco consumption
  • Engage in fun, relaxing activities
  • Maintain human connections  - keep the lines of communication with friends and family open
  • Keep a regular routine
  • Stay productive - at work and/or with side projects, hobbies at home
  • Provide help to others - supporting others helps to maintain purpose and human connection
  • Make use of mental health resources - Here's a list from the CDC