Recent Developments with COVID-19: Your Questions Answered

In the past few weeks Cority has hosted several webinars addressing the COVID-19 crisis as workers are beginning to return to physical workplaces. We understand that in an area where there was previously not a whole lot of information, there might be an information overload now. This blog answers some of the questions from webinar attendees and lists helpful resources to check out for more information. 

What do you anticipate will be the 'new normal' for hygiene practices required in the construction industry (e.g. hand washing stations, cleaning tools, equipment, sani-cans, etc?) 

Good hand hygiene and sanitation should always be a part of workplace practices and should have been a part of the 'old normal'. Especially if construction is occurring in healthcare facilities or in an area that is caring for COVID-19 positive patients, those facilities will have specific infection prevention guidelines that need to be followed regardless if there is a pandemic. Under the OSHA Safety and Health Regulations for Construction 29 CFR 1926.51, washing facilities are included in this standard. 

Beyond what is needed for general hygiene, depending on the situation, sites might consider adding additional portable wash stations and hand sanitizer in vehicles and work areas. Generally, those in construction may be wearing gloves as a part of their PPE. Encouraging hand hygiene before putting on gloves for the day and after removing gloves is a great practice. The AIHA has a great resource that has a variety of considerations for the construction industry and different strategies that can be implemented based on your setting. Many industries hopefully will have an increased focus on personal hygiene and health moving forward beyond this pandemic. In addition to good hygiene, it is also recommended that workers in any industry receive their annual influenza vaccinations to prevent the spread of seasonal influenza.

For more workplace hygiene and cleaning best practices, check out our COVID-19 Resource Kit

 

What are the methods to keep workers safe on commercial and builder job sites and in retail stores?

Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is spread person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Spread is more likely when people are in close contact with one another so strategies that avoid close contact with sick individuals are the best infection prevention strategies. Each industry will have unique needs to accomplish physical distancing. Risk of COVID-19 will also vary based on whether an industry is customer facing or not. The AIHA has some great resources that are industry specific to give you a sense of what can be done in these industries to keep workers safe.

For retail settings, limiting the number of customers, providing space between the retail worker and the customer, and keeping high touch areas clean are all great places to start. As general principles, not allowing ill employees to come into work, practicing good hand hygiene and cough etiquette, keeping items that might be touched frequently to a minimum, and maintaining a clean workplace are all basic strategies that can be implemented regardless of the industry you're in.

 

What is a good reference to write a policy about temperature check at work? 

Per the CDC, screening employees is an optional strategy that employers may use. The CDC has some guidelines that you can take into consideration before implementing a program. Any health screening policy needs to be developed in conjunction with your occupational health medical professionals. The EEOC has provided guidance on the employer's responsibilities around temperature checks as these typically are considered a medical activity and you want to make sure you are not violating any discrimination laws and that the people conducting the checks have the appropriate training.

In Europe, these employment laws and information disclosures vary and there might be constraints on employers conducting any health screenings. Again, consulting your occupational medicine professionals is the best first step.  Temperature is not the only symptom of COVID-19 and all symptoms must be taken into evaluation. Employees could have a fever for other reasons and employees could also alter their results by taking fever reducing medications. Your screening policies should take this into consideration. Anyone conducting screening, should also be using a temperature device that is validated and have a back up method if a fever is detected. Thermal scanners do not always accurately reflect body temperature and if someone is coming in from a hot or cold environment, this could adversely affect the readings if the device you are using does not account for ambient temperatures. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM)  published medical guidelines for screening and treatment that can be considered in consultation with your occupational health staff.  


RELATED: COVID-19 Employee Health Screening Toolset

 

If we are conducting contact tracing, if someone is wearing a mask (reusable or N95) and within 6 feet for 15 minutes, does that affect the quarantine? How does wearing a mask affect this?

It depends. Your local and state/country public health agencies will be very helpful when it comes to contact tracing and what to do to inform employees of potential exposures and quarantine criteria based on potential exposure. All positive COVID-19 tests are reported to health authorities. Employers may be involved as it pertains to a positive case that was recently in the workforce. Certainly using physical distancing and barriers that reduce transmission of respiratory droplets is key. Masks vary by how they were intended to be used. When an N95 or higher respirator is used, this protects the wearer from inhalation of any potential infectious droplets. Respirators need to be fit tested to work effectively. Disposable N95s with exhalation valves allow unfiltered air to escape so should not be worn if the intention is to protect others around the wearer. Surgical masks have different levels of protection based on their ASTM certification, but in general surgical masks protect the wearer from large droplets, sprays, splashes of fluids and protect others from the wearer’s respiratory droplets. Cloth face masks may reduce the risk of asymptomatic persons spreading droplets from their exhaled breath into their immediate environment but does not protect the wearer from inhaling particles and is not considered personal protective equipment.

If there is a positive COVID -19 case and contact tracing needs to be done, this will vary based on where and when exposures occurred.  The CDC has Public Health recommendations for community-related exposure that can be used to help determine the exposure and the subsequent recommendation for self-quarantine.  As mentioned previously, state and local health authorities can assist with definitions of a contact. The CDC has also published  guidance for critical infrastructure workers who may have had exposure to a person with COVID-19.

The length of quarantine is based on the current data on the COVID-19 incubation period. The incubation period for COVID-19 is thought to be within 14 days of exposure. The quarantine time would then be 14 days after the exposure event. Isolation is instituted for those that have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are waiting for test results or have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

Cority's COVID-19 Workplace Health and Continuity Solution is now available. What resources are you using to develop your COVID-19 solution?

To get the most accurate information our occupational health, safety, and infectious disease experts are using the CDC, OSHA, WHO, ECDC, and other international government guidance for the basis of our worker and employee health information. In addition to these organizations, we consult other resources such as APIC, AIHA, ASSP, ASHRAE, ACOEM along with other worker health and hygiene professional associations.

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About the Author

Roberta Smith, MSPH, RN, CIC, CIH, COHN-S

Roberta Smith MSPH, RN, CIH, COHN-S, CIC has spent her career exploring the many facets of public health. She has over 20 years of experience in the fields of public health, occupational health, industrial hygiene, safety, and infection control. She holds Bachelor of Science degrees in Environmental Health and Nursing. She holds a Master of Science degree in Public Health and certifications in infection control, occupational health nursing, and industrial hygiene. She currently is the Director of Worker Health for Cority Axion Health. In this role, she leads the review of the clinical content and protocols offered to occupational health clients to ensure compliance with applicable laws and best practices. She is active in both the national and local chapters of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) in the Healthcare, Leading Health Metrics, and Teen Workplace Safety subcommittees. She received the AIHA Outstanding Project Team Award in 2018 and 2019 for her leadership of the AIHA Healthcare Working Group Infection Control Subcommittee.

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