Many businesses and organizations across the country are evaluating and making plans to reopen. Some calls for ending stay-at-home orders are due to economic necessity. Others stem from a desire to maintain mental well-being through social interactions. Regardless of one’s stance on why the country should begin to reopen, what is clear is this: it is the responsibility of everyone to take reopening steps with as much care and caution as possible.
Although much remains unknown about COVID-19, over the past six weeks researchers have made a lot of progress in learning about the virus. Here is a brief look at our current knowledge of the coronavirus:
- People of all ages can carry and spread the virus before presenting any symptoms. Per the CDC, symptoms can surface within 2-14 days of infection. Additionally, the CDC warns that people can carry and spread the virus without ever presenting any symptoms or becoming sick themselves.
- The virus is spread mainly through respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes. While masks will not prevent you from catching the coronavirus, people can reduce the spread by covering their nose and mouth. Masks are especially important in circumstances when it is difficult to maintain the recommended six feet of social distance.
- Hand washing, using hand sanitizer, and cleaning surfaces with disinfectants are effective methods of preventing the spread of the virus. It has been determined that the virus can remain active on surfaces for 1-3 days, depending on the surface material.
- Individuals that are 65 or older and/or have pre-existing conditions such as autoimmune conditions, heart disease, chronic lung disease, or diabetes are at higher risk of serious complications if they become infected. New studies and reports suggest that otherwise healthy people can experience severe complications related to blood clots while experiencing mild symptoms that are typically associated with the virus.
Based on the information available to us, here are some items that your business or organization should consider when creating a plan to reopen:
- Determine what will need to happen for you to feel comfortable opening your doors. This could be as simple as being able to obtain the supplies needed to provide a safe environment, such as masks for employees, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer.
- Map out your office layout. Identify the trouble areas in your workplace — areas in which social distancing will be challenging or impossible and areas that could increase the spread of the virus. These are places like open work areas, cubicles, bathrooms, kitchens, and other common touchpoints (e.g., copy or fax machines).
- How will you deal with problem areas? Once you identify these areas, create rules around them that will minimize the contact risk. For example, closing the kitchen and only allowing disposable paper products to be used.
- Will you require daily temperature checks or create stricter guidelines regarding coming to work sick?
- When and where will masks be required?
- Establish capacity limits. Using state and health services’ recommendations, determine how many team members (and customers/clients) you will allow in your workspace each day.
- Create a plan for worst case scenarios. If you haven’t already established a plan for what you will do if a member of your team is exposed to the virus or becomes infected, create one now. This should include who will be notified and how (building management, customers, other team members), plans for cleaning the workspace, and determination on if the office will close for a period to ensure no further transmission.
- Be as flexible as possible. Be prepared for a mixed reaction from your team when the doors do open. Some team members will be very anxious to get back to the office, while others may not feel safe or comfortable returning to the workplace, especially if they have been successful working from home. There may also be team members experiencing issues with childcare needs that may make it impossible for them to return, whether they want to or not.
Keep an open line of communication with your employees regarding the plans that you are working on for safely reopening. Remind team members that although there is a plan in place, it may need to be adjusted to accommodate unforeseen circumstances.
An impressively clear explanation and sobering guide written by biologist Erin Bromage explains how the virus spreads. She cites real-life case studies and updates the document frequently to be as accurate as possible. The article is a good resource to any business or organization creating a plan to re-open.
Stay informed using credible, fact-based sources. Your team and your clients will be looking to you to provide guidance during these confusing times. Businesses and organizations will be fighting an uphill battle against misinformation, rumors, and fear. Although you do not need to be an expert, make sure that you are basing your plans on sound information to keep your team, your clients, and your community safe.