How Risky Is Being A Restaurant Worker With Underlying Health Issues?

In our series "What's the Risk?" experts weigh in on what risks different scenarios pose for transmitting COVID-19.

How Risky Is Being A Restaurant Worker With Underlying Health Issues?

When it comes to getting sick with COVID-19, you might be thinking about this, and we have too. Vanessa Hyde asked, "I would like to know what is the risk of catching coronavirus working in a restaurant if you have a prior history of the H1N1 flu, SARS and a compromised immune system due to childhood cancer?"

We asked the experts: Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Cleveland Clinic; Katie Cary, vice president of infection prevention for HCA Continental Division; and Dr. Irfan N. Hafiz, infectious disease physician and Northwest Region chief medical officer at Northwestern Medicine.

Their take: The risk of contracting COVID-19 as a restaurant worker with underlying health conditions is high. 

"If you do have a medical condition that puts you at risk, certainly need to talk to your physician about that. What does that mean? How does that affect your job? And what kind of precaution do you take? I think there's too many variations in that for me, just to give a general answer aside from checking with your physician. I think from a worker's perspective to be aware of is really what's going on back in the kitchen or in the break areas when we are seeing employees get sick? It's not necessarily that they're catching it from the customers in this case, but usually it is staff infecting one another, and oftentimes it's mealtimes for them or break times where they're in a break room and they don't have masks on. So we're really being cautious at those times where we're not having overcrowding in those situations is important," Hafiz said.


"If you're working there day in, day out and you're seeing more and more people, the more people that you come in contact with, the more risk you have again. Again, You can certainly help yourself by wearing your mask, by making sure you continuously use good hand hygiene. Washing your hands — one of the best things you can do to prevent this virus, as well as every other virus that we will be seeing in the upcoming months. Again, good airflow in the restaurant work or definitely if you're working on a patio, that's also a very good thing you can use to help minimize your risk," Esper said.

"Any time you were in a situation where you're around a lot of people, the risk is higher. It's just very important that you're wearing a mask. And to the extent that masks are required for the people that would be in the restaurant, they should also be wearing them to try to lower the risk as much as possible," Cary said.

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