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Work and the Coronavirus

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Helping people understand how COVID-19 affects work and employment by sharing insights and help from ILR's workplace experts.

Reopening the Workplace

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Nellie Brown

With states across the U.S. taking steps towards reopening businesses, local health officials have offered guidance on what employers ought to do to keep returning employees safe.

Nellie Brown, director of workplace health and safety programs at the ILR School, says that risk cannot be reduced to zero, but safety standards businesses put in place today will help workplaces reduce the spread of many diseases.

Brown says:

“We can't reduce risk to zero. I think that temperature checks and symptom inquiries when people return to work are good but are a coarse screen, not a fine screen, so we're going to catch a variety of communicable diseases including COVID-19. But, you're not going to catch anyone whose symptoms are not obvious and that's certainly the case with Covid-19. So many people are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, you're not going to catch them.

“I'm also very concerned about people looking seriously at what the occupant density of their workplace is really going to be. Whether it's an office, a store or a processing or manufacturing facility – how can you do social distancing? Sometimes you can put barriers between people, such as at cash registers, and I think we're going to go back to offices and maybe cubicles with higher walls.

“We're going to have to rely a great deal on people doing these things: social distancing, wearing proper personal protective equipment, including face masks, and taking care to follow all the different types of procedural changes that we need to make. We will be paying closer attention to our cleaning and disinfecting routines, using more no-touch switches, doors, trash cans and even remembering to put the lid down on the toilet before we flush it.

“There are a lot of things that people take for granted. But, so many of the changes we will be making will help reduce communicable diseases in the workplace, whether airborne or spread through commonly-touched things – not just COVID-19, but also the flu and many gastrointestinal diseases – so, we’ll get a lot of mileage from these changes.”

To hear what Brown has to say about other pandemic issues, see this video.

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