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3 ways companies can safely reopen their offices during the pandemic, according to an epidemiologist

Published by Business Insider on Fri, 27 Nov 2020

<p><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/5fa09d9369331a0011bc6e1e-2400/reopening covid office employees business workers face masks.jpg" border="0" alt="reopening covid office employees business workers face masks" data-mce-source="Luis Alvarez/Getty Images" data-mce-caption="When bringing employees back into the office, it's important to make new habits stick."></p><p></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><p>The COVID-19 pandemic is not only taking a toll on humans, it's also taking a toll on businessesfrom Fortune 500 companies, to the trillion-dollar airline industry, to local mom and pop stores down the street. We're all trying to create a new and safe normal.</p><p><img style="float:right;" src="https://static6.businessinsider.com/image/5fbea5a550e71a00115576bd-2400/DFreeman_NewYorkMag_DrMadad003.JPG" border="0" alt="DFreeman_NewYorkMag_DrMadad003.JPG" data-mce-source="Demetrius Freeman" data-mce-caption="Dr. Syra Madad."></p><p>For businesses, it's difficult to shutter doors or pause services as this can result in loss of revenue and business activity. Not all of us had pandemic playbooks laying around or continuity of operations plans to help guide us on next steps, how to weather the viral storm, and continue business operations during a pandemic.&nbsp;</p><p>The cornerstone for all businesses is to protect the health and safety of your employees, customers, and the community. As you resume business operations, it's critical to take local context such as level of disease transmission in the community, public health guidance, and the ability of your business to implement regulations and create a safe environment. Here are three tips to keep in mind as the COVID-19 pandemic continues:</p><h2><strong style="color: #000000;">1. Be prepared for unpredictability and potential disruption</strong></h2><p>If there's one thing we can count on in this pandemic it's uncertainty. For businesses, this translates into limited or restricted resumption of business activities. or full on closed, not open for business. Whichever phase your business may fall under, whether it can fully reopen, reopen with restrictions, or must stay closed, it's best to prepare for all three.&nbsp;</p><p>If you don't already have a continuity of operations plan, now is the time to begin planning for you would operationalize shifting from one phase to another. Perhaps it's shifting the entire business online, or prioritizing aspects of the business that are most beneficial and can continue in a limited capacity in-person.&nbsp;</p><p>The continuity of operations business plan must take into consideration the protection of employees, customers, and the community at large. A good source for business continuity is The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s <a href="https://www.fema.gov/emergency-managers/national-preparedness/continuity/toolkit">Continuity Resource Toolkit</a>. The <a href="https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf">Occupational Safety and Health Administration</a> also offers guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19.</p><p><em><strong>Read more</strong>: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/eu-covid-young-people-coronavirus-lockdown-generation-european-youth-forum-2020-11">COVID-19 threatens to create a 'lockdown generation' in Europe: Here's why young people could be the ones paying for yet another crisis</a></em></p><h2><strong style="color: #000000;">2. Implement measures to prevent the exposure and spread of COVID-19</strong></h2><p>There's no one size fits all approach as specific industries and businesses require tailored approaches but the goals are the same. For both the individual level (e.g., employees, customers, community) and operational level within a business (e.g., safe working/business environment), it's key to prevent both exposure to and the spread of COVID-19.</p><p>To address both, each business should first conduct a risk assessment to identify areas that may contribute to increased level of exposure and spread of COVID-19.</p><p>Then,&nbsp; make modifications and apply mitigation measures to help decrease the risk of exposure and spread. This includes a mixture of workplace controls, basic infection prevention measures, administrative controls, policies and procedures on workplace etiquette, safe work practices, and engineering controls.</p><p>At the individual level, these measures that can include:&nbsp;</p><ul><li>Screening and health checks of employees</li><li>A process for prompt identification and isolation of sick individuals</li><li>Assessing employees' individual risk factors (e.g., underlying health conditions, older age and controls to address increased risk)</li><li>Universal mask-wear policy</li><li>Physical distancing measures between employees and among customers</li><li>Workplace guidance and policy for employees who are sick</li><li>COVID-19 testing</li><li>Safe return to work policies after an employee recovers if they get sick</li><li>Educating employees on basic infection control</li><li>Sanitation and hygiene measures</li></ul><p>At the operational level within a business, modification and mitigation measures that can be applied include:</p><ul><li>Restricting the number of people within physical space at any given time</li><li>Alternating/staggering employee work shifts</li><li>Downsizing operations</li><li>Cleaning and disinfecting</li><li>Limiting the number of entrances/exits into facility</li><li>Physical distancing measures (e.g., floor markings)</li><li>Offering personal protective equipment and supplies (e.g., masks, respiratory stations)</li><li>Limiting gathering and congregation</li><li>Barriers and engineering controls (e.g., better air circulation, and ventilation system)</li><li>Ongoing risk communication</li></ul><p>It's important to also bear in mind, mitigation and modification measures should take into consideration the local, regional, and state-wide variations in disease burden as this may ultimately dictate the extent to which your business can remain fully operational in-person.&nbsp; Good sources for risk assessment and modifications and mitigation measures include the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security's <a href="https://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/our-work/pubs_archive/pubs-pdfs/2020/200506-business-RA-instruction-manual.pdf">Operational Toolkit for Business</a>, and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Interim <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html">Guidance for Businesses and Employers</a>.</p><p><em><strong>Read more</strong>: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/action-plan-employee-gets-coronavirus-tell-staff-email-template-2020-4">The steps to take if an employee contracts coronavirus, including the emails you should be sending to your team to calm concerns</a></em></p><h2><strong style="color: #000000;">3. Stay aware of local, state, and federal guidance and regulations</strong></h2><p>Guidance and regulations differ from one locality to another. Within even a given state, there may be variability of COVID-19 related public health regulations and mandates. such as limited business activity due to increased COVID-19 disease transmission.&nbsp;</p><p>As a business, you must be informed of all local, state and federal ordinances, mandates, guidance, and regulations as it may impact your business and influence community level strategies. A good source to go to for regular updates can include your <a href="https://www.naccho.org/membership/lhd-directory">local or state department of health.</a></p><p><strong>SEE ALSO:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-epidemiologist-is-preparing-for-halloween-holidays-2020-9" >How to celebrate Halloween with your kids while staying safe during COVID-19, according to an epidemiologist</a></strong></p><p><strong>READ MORE:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-google-facebook-others-plan-to-reopen-by-july-2021-2020-9" >What small businesses can learn about reopening from Google, Facebook, and other major companies that plan to bring employees back in July 2021</a></strong></p><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/tips-for-reopening-running-business-during-covid-pandemic-2020-11#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p> <p>NOW WATCH: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-parasite-delivered-one-of-the-best-twists-in-cinema-2020-2">What makes 'Parasite' so shocking is the twist that happens in a 10-minute sequence</a></p>
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