“Reopening your business? Worry about the “hot zones”
Donald Nguyen’s Op-Ed piece on Sunday, May 10, 2020 in the Dayton Daily News

To wear or not to wear a mask for shoppers, that is the question.

A small business friend of mine asked me about mask wearing as he is gearing up to reopen his business. He wanted to know the science, the rationale, and the best health practice to protect his employees because some of them are older and have health issues. I shared with him the following practice that doctors, nurses and hospitals have employed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s best to draw a line that separates a hot zone from a safe zone during a viral pandemic. The hot zone is any area that is an extension to the outside world where the unknown or the virus may reside, such as the world beyond the cash register where the customers stand to shop, browse the merchandise, and pay for the goods or where anyone can come in from the parking lot or street. In a hospital or doctor’s office setting, the hot zone in a Covid-19 era is the main entrance, the lobby, and the examination room or patient room. When a patient is shown into the exam room, the room is now a hot zone. The rule is for the doctor or health worker to use hand sanitizer going in, wear gloves when examining patients or touching surrounding surfaces, wear masks at all times, and discard the gloves, wash hands and again use hand sanitizer leaving the room. I advised my friend using the same strategy of protecting his employees, but maybe not to the same degree. Install a plexiglass to shield the cash register, have hand sanitizer stations everywhere, have the employees wear masks and practice physical distancing. When employees venture into the “hot zone”, be smart, wear gloves to clean the merchandise, the furniture, the counter/table tops and absolutely requiring all customers to wear a mask, just like my patients have to wear a mask when they come inside the office or hospital. We must presume that all customers are potentially a virus carrier because the percentage of symptom free Covid-19 carrier can be as high as 70%. Customers coming in from a hot zone have to wear a cloth or paper mask, because that is the best way to stop the virus from being expelled into the air via the nose and mouth. They can also spread the virus to innocent vulnerable shoppers near by because air droplets remain the main vector for transmission. Currently, everyone entering a hospital must wear a mask and I advise my friend to require the same for his business. In this Covid-19 era, until a vaccine is available, my friend’s most important moral duty is to protect his employees and valuable customers from the hot zone virus carriers. Like the saying goes “Over my dead body you are entering my store without a mask!”. This is why a mandatory mask wearing is so needed.

Donald Nguyen, MD, FAAP
Beavercreek physician and regular contributor