COVID-19 changed business as we knew it. Many of us have been working from home since March, learning how to manage meetings from a virtual space, others have continued working as essential workers and too many have sadly been laid-off or furloughed. We all hope for a day when it is safe again to be within six feet of each other.
As we enter June, many states have begun to allow businesses to reopen. Reopening doesn’t mean that the virus is gone from the community. While we have made steps to flatten the curve in many communities nationwide, there are precautions we can all take to prevent further spread of the disease. The CDC has released a guide to help businesses navigate this difficult time. We also recommend checking your city and state guidelines. We went through it and put together these points you may want to consider as you think about reopening your doors.
Evaluate the Engineering
Step one to safely reopen your business is to thoroughly assess your buildings’ structure, air flow and piping systems. Businesses will want to know:
- Are the ventilation and water systems working properly?
- Can the layout of the workspace be adapted to support social distancing? You can make small adjustments like adding partitions between close workspaces to create a physical barrier or rearrange workspaces to be at least six feet apart.
- What interactions can you alter to make things safer? For retail businesses and restaurants, providing online shopping alternatives such as pick-up and delivery of goods could help customers and employees feel safe. Is it possible to move toward electronic payment methods, and move those card readers further away from the cashier.
However, the work doesn’t stop there. Once your space is rearranged, gauge the risk your workplace has for the spread of infection. And create administrative policies that will educate employees and support their physical and mental health during this time.
Provide Personal Protective Equipment
As we return to the workplace, many businesses may want to provide their employees with personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE can not only keep your employees physically safe but can also provide some much-needed peace of mind during this uncertain time. Some of the CDC’s recommendations include:
- Conduct a thorough workplace hazard assessment to determine possible risks for employees in the office and how well equipped you are to maintain social distancing and a clean atmosphere.
- Based on your hazard assessment results, determine what you will need to provide your employees with gloves, face masks, gowns or facial shields.
- Provide appropriate PPE to your employees for free, ensuring that equipment intended for hospital use is saved for healthcare workers.
Alter Administrative Policies
When deciding whether or not to reopen a physical space, one of the other important pieces of the puzzle can be establishing new, post COVID-19 policies. The CDC stresses changes in these few areas:
- Monitor state and local public health communications about COVID-19 and keep your employees updated with the latest news. Educate employees on why changes are needed.
- Maintain clear communication with any partners, suppliers or contractors about changes in your business policies and practices.
- Consider changing sick leave and work-from-home policies to be more flexible to support employees with special health challenges or dependent care needs. Employees who are sick with symptoms of COVID-19 need to stay home unless seeking medical care.
- Consider establishing flexible work hours for employees who rely on public transit so they can travel during low-traffic times.
- Actively encourage social distancing at work by prohibiting handshakes, requiring face coverings and making large meetings virtual. Allow for telework, if you can.
Establish Cleanliness as the New Normal
Maintaining a clean space is essential as people return to the office. New policies can help keep the workspace clean and your employees safe. The CDC recommends cleaning surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting and using products that meet EPA criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Remember, COVID-19 is caused by a virus, and many popular cleaners only kill bacteria, not viruses.
In addition, employees will have an increased responsibility to maintain good respiratory health practices. Employees should be reminded to:
- Wash their hands before and after work shifts and breaks. This also means soaping up for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the restroom.
- Wear PPE including gloves, face coverings or gowns as directed by industry and city or state guidelines. Provide them with information about why this new equipment is important and how it can reduce the spread of COVID-19. They should also get in the habit of refraining from touching their face after putting on, touching or removing cloth face coverings.
- Clean their spaces regularly with approved disinfectants.
- Maintain social distancing in the office and educate employees on why maintaining six feet between people is effective in reducing the spread of the virus.
- Provide resources on the symptoms of COVID-19 and instruct them on how to proceed if they suspect they are infected or have been in close contact with someone who is.
Though it may be tedious, creating these policies and conducting a thorough evaluation of your workspace can help you decide if your business is ready to reopen safely. By working together, we can get back to business, while reducing the spread of disease.
Disclaimer: The information in this article was medically reviewed and accurate at the time of posting. Because knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 is constantly evolving, data or insights may have changed. The most recent posts are listed on the EACH Breath blog landing page. You may also visit our COVID-19 section for updated disease information and contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA for COVID-19 questions.
Blog last updated: June 23, 2021