Okay, these are more like five categories, but nothing about fighting COVID-19 has been simple. If your personal responsibility includes protecting the people with whom you work, this is serious stuff. There’s more to returning your staff to work safely than covering up the water fountain and pulling workstations further apart.
Take a critical look at your space as the infectious disease expert COVID-19 has forced you to become. That cereal station has to go. The community coffee pot? Nope. Whoever thought cubicles were a good idea? And the door handles! Soooo many door handles!
Just breathe. You’ve got this. Here’s what needs to happen:
#1 Clear the Air
This is a biggie. Keeping clean air circulating in a modern office building has always been a challenge (who remembers sick building syndrome?). The best, cheapest, and simplest option is to throw open the windows and doors, but since many office spaces seal in their precious, recycled air with the diligence of a guard at Ft. Knox, this may not be possible.
Assuming you are not an HVAC expert, you should consult the cavalry on this. Since your work area has likely been closed for over a year, have them inspect systems for icky stuff like mold and pests and check to make sure everything is in peak running order. Assess what can be done to boost air circulation and filtration. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) fixtures can be installed to kill airborne pathogens. If money is tight, at least consider portable air purifiers.
#2 Sanitizing Strategery
Touch-free hand sanitizer stations at all entry points! Individual dispensers on everyone’s desks! Tiny bottles of sanitizer on lanyards around everyone’s necks like garlic amulets medieval peasants wore to ward off vampires! (You can never be too careful.)
Identify high touch surfaces and make sure these get sanitized daily, if not more often. Installing inexpensive touch-less foot pulls on the bottom of bathroom doors eliminates the need to sully clean fingers on the handles. Think about eliminating the community coffee pot. If you must provide snacks, make sure they are individually pre-packaged. And for goodness sake, opt for no-touch trash cans.
#3 Six feet. SIX FEET!!!
Because of the uncertainty of scientists about the exact efficacy of the vaccine and the wildly transmissible Delta variant, the World Health Organization recently cautioned everyone—both vaccinated and unvaccinated—to maintain a safe physical distance from one another. In an office setting, that requires some rearranging. Workspaces should not be right next to each other. Transparent shields provide extra protection. Perhaps a seldom-used conference room could be turned into office space.
For immovable furniture, think outside the box. If taping over chairs to keep people from sitting in them looks janky, why not get artistic and create an impenetrable web of colorful duct tape? To put a smile on people’s faces pose giant stuffed sloths or pandas in the seats—or mannequins attired in business casual (or Armani, if that suits your business’s vibe better). If your vibe is all work and no play, maybe just put tasteful signs on the seats.
Relieving congestion in high traffic areas like hallways, break rooms, and conference rooms can be helped by staggering break schedules and arrival times. If feasible, outdoor tables and benches provide inviting spaces for people to get some fresh air.
A few posted reminders about maintaining physical distance may be helpful. Once people return to the world, it’s easy to fall back into old habits, such as standing next to each other.
#4 Masks Matter
Until COVID-19 takes the gloves off, no one should let their guard down. Workplaces would be wise to heed the aforementioned World Health Organization warning and require everyone to continue masking up, including visitors to your premises. Masks have been proven to work, and employers should be diligent about requiring them in order to keep people safe. Period. Install signage stating your business’s mask policy and enforce it.
Are masks pleasant to wear? More pleasant than dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, that’s for sure. Let people flaunt their kooky cat masks or bejeweled Gucci model; just insist people wear them. Don’t forget to have disposable masks on hand for anyone who needs one.
#5 Make a Plan, Stan!
Understanding that even with the best protocols in place, COVID-19 can creep in, identifying the first case before it gets unleashed should be priority one. You probably won’t detect it by relying on symptom checks and the forehead thermometer by the time clock that registers everyone’s temperature at 97.3.
On-site and on-demand serial screening using real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT PCR) tests provides a strong line of defense. Unlike antigen tests, which are most sensitive during the early stages of COVID-19, when a person is most infectious, RT PCR tests detect the presence of viral RNA before a person becomes infectious. Done regularly, testing gives you a strong shot at detecting COVID-19 before it can spread.
Yes, this looks like a lot, but a workplace shielded from COVID-19 is worth it. As an added bonus, these measures should improve the overall health of your working community, reducing the incidence of sick days due to garden-variety illnesses like colds. Bottom line: do whatever it takes to stamp out potential outbreaks before they can occur!
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