Returning to Normal Business After COVID-19
Preparation will be key.
As states, local governments, and communities attempt to resolve the economic impact of the shelter-at-home time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses should look to developing and implementing their plans and policies for returning to normal operation.
In order to reduce the rate of exposure to infection among employees as they return to the workplace, preventing the continued transmission of COVID-19 must be a priority for businesses.
COVID-19 prevention remains vitally important moving forward, as research has shown that the immunity acquired from being infected may not be long lasting. A study done by researchers at the Harvard Hospital3 found that having COVID-19 does not guarantee immunity from this virus. As the potential for repeated exposure and reinfection has been observed, this limited immunity 1, and the widespread prevalence of infection suggests that even employees who have recovered may still be at risk and also pose a risk of transmission 2.
4 Priorities to Consider as You Move Towards Reopening
Before opening, businesses should have a definitive plan with policies in place, which should be made very clear to all employees.
Social Distancing Where Possible
The number one defense against the spread of infection continues to be social distancing practices. Instituting protocols from day one that assist employees in maintaining these practices will greatly aid in preventing the spread of disease. As per the recommendations provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), employees should be encouraged to keep a distance of 6 to 8 feet from each other and should avoid gathering in enclosed areas.
CDC Social Distancing Guidelines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html
Enhancing Hand Hygiene and Cleaning Practices
In addition to following social distancing protocols, enhancing existing company policies regarding proper hand hygiene 4 will help to provide additional defenses against infection and transmission. Some suggestions for enhancing these protocols include:
- Creating posters that highlight social distancing and proper hand hygiene procedures
- Offering easy access to cleaning supplies such as soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes
- Planning breaks to allow employees to wash their hands and disinfect their workstations
- Allowing for frequent sanitization of high-touch points using disinfectants that reach a 4-log reduction, or higher, in low-contact times is recommended 5
CDC hand hygiene Guidelines: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/materials.html
CDC Facility Cleaning Guidelines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html
Addressing Sick Employees
Once employees begin to return to their places of work, businesses can help keep them safe by instituting procedures to monitor and prevent exposure. A useful method to ensure sick workers are staying home, as recommended by the CDC, is by performing preliminary and regular tests to check employee temperatures in order to restrict symptomatic individuals from entering the workplace. In addition, you many consider asking employees to fill out a brief survey inquiring if they have possibly come into contact with the virus or are showing any symptoms; information regarding more accurate testing can be gathered from the websites of local or state health departments. The CDC has created a directory of these websites for easy access6.
Wherever possible, business policy should allow for a work from home option for any employee whose health or exposure status are uncertain as a way to minimize exposure risk for the entire work force.
In the event that an employee does test positive for COVID-19, protocols for what actions are to be taken should be well planned out in advance. These protocols should address:
- Containing all areas the staff member had access to
- Identifying which other employees were in the same area
- How to proceed with the disinfection process for these and adjacent areas
- Protocol for releasing the area back to use
- Final clearance for the area to be reoccupied
Should employees be unable to avoid working in an enclosed space such as an open office, one tool business may choose to employ is the use of facemasks. While N95 respirators and surgical masks should be reserved for medical workers and first responders, wearing homemade cloth facial coverings can help contain the spread of aerosolize particles which are generated when people talk, cough, or sneeze. Wearing a facemask should not take the place of social distancing and hand washing measures, but could be employed as an additional useful precaution. Facemasks should be contained separate from other items when not being worn and cleaned regularly to avoid becoming a source of contagion. The CDC provides guidelines for both the use of cloth masks, and the materials best used for these masks 7.
CDC guidelines for facemasks: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html
Using the current time available to develop and implement these measures will serve to help protect everyone involved as businesses move to re-establish their new normal.
Immunity after infection:
Some COVID-19 patients still have coronavirus after symptoms disappear:
Research paper written by staff at the Harvard Hospital:
CDC hand hygiene:
CDC disinfection guidelines:
CDC directory for state health departments:
CDC direction for facemasks: