COVID-19: Workplace Reopening Guidelines
As 2021 approaches, the pandemic caused by COVID-19 remains a public health hazard. Currently businesses are reopening under controlled phases with predetermined infectivity thresholds in place in case closures need to resume. With the right tools in place, correct use of sanitizers, strict social distancing rules and limited capacity, it is possible to open and operate safely. If you are considering testing surfaces of your business for COVID-19, there are details about these results you should know.
Details of COVID-19
SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus is thought to spread mostly person-to-person, by respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. The virus might also spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose, mouth, or possibly eyes. Infected people can spread the virus whether or not they have symptoms. While these droplets will degrade over time, studies have shown that the virus has potential for a prolonged tenacity on surfaces (up to 3 days). Due to this, transmission through contaminated surfaces is being investigated as a possible route of exposure.
Test Kits for COVID-19
Testing surfaces for COVID-19 is now possible. These tests use swabs and can be done in the field by anyone without special training. Surfaces such as ATM machines, door handles, railings and countertops can quickly and safely be done. It is important to note, a positive test result may not be indicative of an infectious agent.
The biggest testing hurdle is being able to tell the difference between a viable "live" virus, which can infect a person, and traces of viral RNA, the genetic material the virus leaves behind as it degrades, which is not infectious and can’t infect anyone. There is no way to show how much virus is present on the surface based on the limitations of the portable tests or whether the virus is capable of infection. The potential use of the test is to monitor and eventually strengthen the effectiveness of sanitation measures put in place. It is also important to note proper use of an EPA registered disinfectant on approved surfaces will effectively kill virus present without the need to validate with additional testing.
Tips on Using Your Disinfectant
Read the label of the disinfectant and find where it says, “Human Coronavirus,” it’s typically the third set on the virus section grouped with the majority of viruses. Spray enough sanitizer on the surface so it stays saturated for at least the amount of time listed.
Key Considerations on Returning to Work
Screen all employees upon entering with temperature checks and questionnaires. The questionnaires can be done remotely for logistical purposes (and to save paper). Guests will need to undergo the same procedure. Limit unnecessary visitors, guests or gatherings whenever possible. Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom are examples of web-based teleconferencing which can be done remotely. Personal hygiene is very important. Signs throughout the workplace should remind staff to not only wear face coverings and social distance but also to wash their hands on a routine basis. To people who work in office environments and not the medical field or food industry this will be a change for them.
COVID-19 is airborne so this must be taken into consideration when adjusting workspaces and working hours. Listed here are a few steps you can take to protect your business. This is not an exhaustive list but rather key points: adjust workplace hours to keep staff separated at least six feet apart. This could mean moving desks and setting up temporary office spaces in different rooms if available. Setup an A/B schedule to stagger employee schedules, especially on breaks. Give employees the freedom to take breaks away from the office especially outside if weather permits. Encourage them to sit at tables one at a time. Label floors with six food markings and reminders to stay six feet apart. Hand sanitizer stations posted on each floor or within each department will encourage staff and visitors to use them.
Protective Equipment (PPE)
Employers must provide face coverings to their employees at no cost to them. Employees must not share face covers either. For detailed information on face covers go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staff must wear face coverings at all times, regardless of their position. Customers and guests must also where face coverings if they enter any business. This has been a law in most states since July 2020. Provide a notice on the door which clearly states this policy. Pictograms showing a mask are very helpful as they could be understood by someone of any language.
Returning to work during a pandemic is not an easy choice to make. Strict COVID-19 mitigation policies are required with robust sanitation and disinfection in place. If you believe surface sampling for COVID-19 will put your staff at ease, then we recommend it. However, positive test results do not necessarily mean the virus is capable of infection. These tests look at virus particles which may not be capable of infecting someone. It does indicate that there are lapses in the cleaning process. Continue to keep employees separated whenever possible, wear PPE throughout the day, even while sitting at your desk and monitor staff daily for signs of infection.