Guest Article written by Patrick Bailey
As COVID-19 continues to ravage the United States, many states are beginning to re-open, which has spurred many businesses to do the same.
For those whose employers do not consider remote work an option, there are many things you can do to make your office space healthier and safer, especially for high-risk groups.
According to a February 2020 report from the World Health Organization (WHO), the median age for COVID-19 cases is 51, with more than three-quarters between the ages of 30 and 69.
A June 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added that the risk increases the older you get, in part due to the increased likelihood of co-occurring chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, and asthma. Symptoms of COVID-19 include difficulty breathing.
That's why it's essential to ensure your workplace is safe not only for at-risk age groups but also for everyone.
Develop a Preparedness and Response Plan
Per guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on preparing the workplace for COVID-19, every business should have a response team. Each team must put together a response plan, measuring known risks and establishing mitigation strategies, based on local, state, and federal guidance measures.
These plans must first consider where and how workers may potentially be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace—for instance, by contact with the general public—and which workers are most at risk due to age, health, or the potential for being exposed outside the workplace.
Once those metrics are established, the plan should prepare for and incorporate measures to limit contact via recommended guidelines from the government.
Implement Prevention Measures
Once your team is ready to execute the preparedness plan, it's essential to make sure that includes appropriate prevention measures.
Although most states and cities have already incorporated mask mandates, many only include public spaces, so be sure to incorporate one for your business. If your staff seem reluctant to comply, the CDC has some informational flyers you can print and post.
According to the Mayo Clinic, face masks, in conjunction with other measures, will effectively slow the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, you should enforce the use of face masks for both employees and customers alike.
Hand Washing and Sanitizing
Masks alone are not enough. A cough can even produce up to 3,000 droplets (all capable of infecting someone) and a mask may not stop all of it. The simple act of breathing can produce hundreds of difficult-to-see COVID-19 droplets that may remain in the air for three hours and on surfaces for days.
One study out of Imperial College London has shown that COVID-19 RNA left on a hospital bed was able to spread to 18 other surfaces in the room within 10 hours. Once spread, those droplets may contain within it COVID-19 virus matter that can survive up to nine days on surfaces such as glass, metal, and plastic.
Because it is important to properly sanitize surfaces and yourself:
- Maintain a barrier of protection between your workforce and the general public.
- Sanitize common areas as often as possible.
- Close bathrooms or keep them highly controlled.
- Have employees wash their hands every 30 minutes while working.
Although some of these measures may seem like overkill, it's important to remember that just one sick person can infect an entire building and cause that whole workforce to go into quarantine.
In some cases, such as pistachio or meat processing facilities, plants have shut down entirely for a two-week quarantine because of accidental infection. One sick person could jeopardize the health of your older workers, the livelihood of your whole workforce, and the survival of your business.
Social Distancing and Isolation
Perhaps one of the most effective measures for preventing COVID-19 infection among those 50 years and older is social distancing and self-isolation. If possible, you should consider allowing more at-risk age groups to either stay at home or encourage social distancing among staff (keeping employees about six feet away from each other). According to the CDC, self-isolation and working from home can reduce instances of infection among adults 50 and older by 91%.
Putting It All Together
Preventing COVID-19 infections among those who are high-risk (50 and older) is possible through a combined effort and following government and medical guidance.
Through a preparedness plan, you can identify and address the most critical aspect of potential exposure. Based on those findings, you can then implement measures such as face mask mandates, consistent sanitization efforts, and social distancing to make sure your more vulnerable workers are not infected.
These COVID-19 measures, while necessary, can lead to increased feelings of depression and anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, or both. If you believe your workers are turning to alcohol to cope in these difficult times, consider directing them to an alcohol treatment program.
Encouraging mental health counseling for your workers who are social distancing or self-isolating may prevent these co-occurring mental health issues from spiraling out of control.