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CDC’s plan: no break rooms; disposable restaurant plates; kids eat in classrooms

Photo of the CDC. (Provided Photo/CNN)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Businesses should close break rooms. Restaurants should consider disposable menus and plates. Schools should have students eat lunch in their classrooms.

These are some of the recommendations offered in new federal plans designed to help restaurants, schools, churches and businesses safely reopen as states look to gradually lift their coronavirus restrictions.

The draft guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been sent to Washington but still could be revised before the Trump administration unveils it to the public. The recommendations were obtained from a federal official who was not authorized to release them publicly.

The CDC put together so-called “decision trees” for at
least seven types of organizations: schools, camps, childcare centers,
religious facilities, mass transit systems, workplaces, and

White House officials previously released a three-phase reopening plan
for the nation that mentioned schools and other organizations that come
back online at different points. But it hadn’t previously offered more
specific how-to guidelines for each kind of entity with specific steps
they can take.

The new guidance still amounts to little more than
advice. State and local officials will be the ones to adopt and enforce
them. Some state and local governments have already put rules in place
for businesses that are operating. For example, Michigan requires
businesses to limit how many customers can be in a store at one time.

York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday said that each business that wants to
reopen will have to submit a plan to the state on how to do that.

new guidance could offer some unified federal guidance that local
officials can lean on, said Lindsay Wiley, an American University public
health law expert.

“Federal guidance provides cover to the
states for those regulations if they’re challenged in the courts,” she
said. “It allows the state to say ‘well the CDC said to do it this way,’
and the judge then is very happy to say ‘well yes you consulted CDC and
that’s the appropriate body,’ and then uphold the restrictions and say
they’re appropriately evidence based.”

Some examples from the guidance:

the initial reopening phases, schools should space desks six feet
apart, nix any field trips and school assemblies, and have students eat
lunch in their classrooms instead of the cafeteria.

should hold services through video streaming or at drive-in or outdoor
venues as much as possible. They should also encourage everyone to wear
cloth face masks, use a stationary collection box, and schedule extra
services if necessary to make sure church pews are not packed and
congregants stay at least six feet from each other.

should consider using throwaway menus, single-service condiments, and
disposable forks, knives, spoons, and dishes. They should install sneeze
guards at cash registers, limit the number of employees on a shift, and
avoid having buffets, salad bars, and drink stations.

guidance for religious groups notes “as all Americans are now aware,
gatherings present a special risk for increasing spread of COVID-19.

suggestions include providing congregants spiritual and emotional care
“on a flexible or virtual basis or refer them to other available

Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox
Union, said that as much as worship in synagogues is “one of the most
fundamental aspects of Jewish life,” his faith also believes that “the
sanctity of life is more important than any other aspect of observance.”

Application of any guidelines are likely to have significant
regional and demographic variation, Fagin added. “There’s going to have
to be a great deal of both training and soul-searching in particular
communities to make certain the guidelines are understood and will in
fact be adhered to, to the letter.”

Various trade groups have also
started coming out with recommendations. For example, the National
Restaurant Association last week put out guidance to restaurants
considering reopening. The association based its guidance on
recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But its
suggestions don’t necessarily match the draft CDC proposals.

The association said restaurants should clean and sanitize reusable menus, while the CDC suggests using disposable menus. And the CDC recommends that employees use cloth masks when interacting with customers, but the association doesn’t. But some guidance is similar. The association and the CDC both recommend seating dining parties at least 6 feet apart.

reported from New York. AP staff writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to
this report from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Elana Schor from New York.