e’ve been living with the pandemic since March 2020. The World Health Organization is working with the European Commission — as well as the Member State public health authorities — to contain the outbreak. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is closely monitoring all developments. The same is done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States. But what can we — entrepreneurs, employers, HR managers — do to combat the virus spread?
First, we need to cover the basics. Remember to stay always up to date by referring to the World Health Organization recommendations as well as your local (national or state-wide) policies and advisory.
The Incubation Period
The current incubation period of COVID-10 is assessed to be anything between 2 and 14 days, with a median of 5.1 days (95 percent CI, 4.5 to 5.8 days).
A recent study published in the National Library of Medicine shows that “97.5 percent of those who develop symptoms will do so within 11.5 days of infection.” Under conservative assumptions, we’re looking at 101 out of every 10 000 cases to develop symptoms after 14 days of active monitoring or quarantine.
At this point, we’re all aware that dry cough, sore throat, difficulty in breathing, tiredness, and fever can be considered symptoms of contracting COVID-19. Moreover, most recent developments show that a loss of sense of smell can also be an early sign of the novel coronavirus.
Workplace Risk Assessment
We know that coronaviruses — including COVID-19 — are most likely to spread when there is close contact with an infected person. And that “close contact” is defined by most experts as two meters or less. Droplets, coughs, or sneezes produced by an infected person are the main means of transmission — hence the need for mask usage.
However, it’s worth mentioning that the virus can also spread through direct contact with a surface, object, or hand of an infected person. This challenge is covered by proper sanitization, as COVID-19 can survive on contaminated surfaces for up to 72 hours.
In accordance with the World Health Organization, the current recommendation is based on assessing the exposure risk internally (however, the support of occupational health services is advised). WHO classifies it as either low, medium, or high. Below, you will find a direct quote from the WHO (source):
Low exposure risk
Jobs or work without frequent, close contact with the general public or others. Workers in this group have minimal occupational contact with the public and other co-workers. Examples of such jobs may include remote workers (i.e., working from home), office workers without frequent close contact with others, and workers providing teleservices.
Medium exposure risk
Jobs or tasks with close, frequent contact with the general public or others. This risk level may apply to workers who have frequent and close contact with the people in high-population-density work environments (e.g. food markets, bus stations, public transport, and other work activities where physical distancing of at least 1 meter may be difficult to observe), or tasks that require close and frequent contact between co-workers. This may also include frequent contact with people returning from areas with community transmission. Examples of such jobs may include frontline workers in retail, home deliveries, accommodation, construction, police and security, public transport, and water and sanitation.
High exposure risk
Jobs or tasks with close contact with people who may be more likely to have COVID-19, as well as contact with objects and surfaces possibly contaminated with the virus. Examples include transporting people known or suspected to have COVID-19 without separation between the driver and the passenger, providing domestic services or home care for people with COVID-19, and having contact with the deceased who were known or suspected of having COVID-19 at the time of their death. Jobs that may fall under this category include domestic workers, social care workers, personal transport and home delivery providers, and home repair technicians (plumbers, electricians) who have to provide services in the homes of people with COVID-19.
WHO recommends keeping a physical distance between each person in all settings, and space of at least 10 square meters for every worker. National regulations on that aspect may vary.
Preventing Respiratory Infections Spread in Your Workplace
As there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, the most efficient way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure. The measures below should be undertaken by all workplaces (and public space operators alike). We have combined the knowledge from OSH Wiki (based on guidance published by WHO, CDC, ECDC, and HSE) with local general guidelines (such as the one from Maine Department of Economic and Community Development), and direct WHO Q&A. Some of the information has been also synthesized from the U.S. Department of Labor recommendations and guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
Most sources point out that employers should:
- Put up posters that encourage staying home when sick.
- Include information on cough and sneeze etiquette as well as hand hygiene.
- Provide employees with tissues and waste bins lined with a plastic bag, making it easier to empty without contacting the contents.
- Provide access to handwashing areas for staff, vendors, and customers.
- Provide hand sanitizer (with at least 60–95 percent alcohol) in multiple locations around work and public spaces.
- Provide alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace in multiple locations including common areas.
- Increase electronic workplace communications.
- Ventilate the workspace as often as possible.
- Discourage shared use of desks.
- Conduct daily health checks.
- Encourage employees to wear cloth face coverings in the workplace.
Moreover, workers, contractors, and customers should be briefed that anyone with even a mild cough needs to stay at home, no matter how important the meeting. Generally, face-to-face meetings should be limited.
The workplace should be routinely cleaned. All touched surfaces such as workstations, countertops, or door handles need to be properly handled. It’s advised that — when choosing or verifying cleaning chemicals — the U.S. employers should consult information on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on approved disinfectant labels with claims against emerging viral pathogens. Based on data for harder to kill viruses, products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are expected to be effective against SARS-CoV-2.
Familiarize yourself with:
- The EU’s national information resources on COVID-19 provided by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
- Latest news from the World Health Organization
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s information regarding evaluating and testing persons for COVID-19
- US Food and Drug Administration on the development of novel therapies for COVID-19