COVID-19 has changed a lot about life. With all these changes, you may wonder what to expect when you go back to work. But there are several ways you can stay safe—and healthy—on the job. There are some things you can do, and some things your employer may do.
Path to improved health
Practice social distancing
Social distancing means you need to stay at least 6 feet away from others. That applies to talking with people, when you’re in meetings, and when you’re at your workstation. But sometimes that can be hard to do. Your employer may offer some suggestions to keep everyone safe.
- If your workstation is within 6 feet of another one, your employer may move it to be at least 6 feet away.
- If your job requires you to be closer than six feet to others, your employer may modify your workspace. For example, you may work behind a plexiglass partition to keep you and your coworkers safe.
- If your workplace has a conference room or break room, you may notice fewer chairs in there now than before COVID-19. That’s because chairs now need to be placed 6 feet apart so workers in those rooms can maintain social distancing.
- Because of social distancing requirements, not all employees may be able to gather together for a meeting in a conference room or break room. In some instances, you may be able to “attend” the meeting through a video conference you can watch from your workstation. Ask your employer if this is an option for you.
- Your employer may stagger your start and end times of the workday. That way, not everybody is arriving or leaving at the same time.
Keep your hands clean
Wash your hands with soap and water many times at work, for at least 20 seconds each time. Be sure to use soap all over your hands, including your fingertips, between your fingers, and underneath your nails. Be sure to remove any jewelry such as rings before washing your hands.
You may see your employer has placed hand sanitizer around your workplace. This can make it quick and easy to find it when you need it. Be sure to use the sanitizer correctly. Squirt it on the palm of your hand, then rub it all over your hands and fingers. Make sure you get it on the back of your hands, between your fingers, and on your fingertips. Keep rubbing your hands together until they’re dry. Read the label on the sanitizer’s container to find out how much sanitizer you should use.
Always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer:
- After you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose
- After using the restroom
- Before and after you eat
- After touching objects touched by others in your work area. These may include door handles, elevator buttons, refrigerator doors, sink faucets, etc.
Wear a mask
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a face mask when in public. This includes at work. Wearing a mask may help keep you from spreading the virus to others, even if you don’t know you have the virus.
Make sure to wear your mask properly. It needs to always cover your mouth and nose. Wash your hands before you put the mask on. Once it’s on, don’t touch it. When you take it off, do so by grabbing the straps behind your ears or on the back of your head. Do not touch the front of the mask. After you remove it, wash your hands again.
Even if you wear a mask, try to stay 6 feet away from other people.
Cough/sneeze into your elbow
When you cough or sneeze, tiny particles leave your mouth and nose and travel through the air. These particles are where the virus can live. So, when you cough or sneeze, do so into the bend of your elbow. This will help keep those particles from traveling through the air.
Clean your workspace
You should disinfect your personal workspace several times during the day. This includes your phone, computer keyboards, desktop surfaces, touchpads, keys, etc.
If possible, clean your workspace and equipment with a cleaner. Select one that’s shown to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Many cleaners have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against the virus. To find out if a specific cleaner meets the requirements, check the back of the container for the EPA registration number. It’s shown as EPA Reg. No. and can be found in small print toward the bottom of the label. Then enter that number into the EPA’s website. If the product appears on this list, it’s safe to use against COVID-19.
When using a cleaning product, be sure to read the label instructions. This is where you’ll find how long the product needs to be applied to be effective. Also, note that some products disinfect and sanitize. These are different ways of cleaning. Each way will likely require a different amount of time to be effective.
Depending on the cleaning product and surface you’re cleaning, you may need to wear gloves. They will keep your skin safe from the chemicals in the cleaner. Check the label or ask your employer if you need gloves.
If you see actual dust or dirt on an object, wash it with soap and water before using a disinfectant. It is also smart to clean your mobile phone and car keys regularly.
Note: Always ask your employer before washing or disinfecting any object. Make sure the cleaner you’re using is safe for your workspace and equipment.
You may notice your employer cleaning objects that are touched by many people throughout the day. He or she may use disinfectants to wipe down door handles, desks, kitchen areas, light switches, faucets, and touch pads.
Open a window
If possible, open a window near your workspace. The air coming in from the outside will mix with the air on the inside. This mix will help thin the virus (if there is any) in the air, making it harder for you to get COVID-19.
Take your temperature
Your employer may choose to check your temperature before you report to work each day. That’s because a fever is a main symptom of COVID-19. You may be required to take your temperature before you leave home then report it to your employer when you arrive at work. Or maybe your employer will take your temperature when you report to work. If you have a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, you’ll need to go home as you may have COVID-19.
Follow guidelines for your specific job
The Centers for Disease Control has provided specific health and safety steps for many job categories, such as construction workers, truck drivers, nail salon workers, and grocery store workers. Click here (and scroll down to the section “Health and Safety Steps for Specific Occupations”) to see if your job is included on the list. If it is, use this information at your workplace to help keep you and your coworkers safe.
Be vaccine ready
Two vaccines for COVID-19 have been authorized for emergency use in the United States from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the vaccine, and the CDC has recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older and the Moderna vaccine for people 18 and older.
In clinical trials, both vaccines proved to be greater than 94% effective in preventing people from getting seriously ill from COVID-19“across age, gender, race, and ethnicity demographics.” Over 70,000 people were included in the two trials.
Eventually, a vaccine will be available for everyone. For now, the supply is limited. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through its independent advisory committee, has recommended the order in which people should receive the vaccination. Among the first: health care workers and residents of long-term-care facilities. It will be up to individual states to decide the order in which they will administer the vaccine. They likely will follow the CDC recommendations. The next groups of people to be able to get the vaccine will be people over 75 and front-line essential workers.
Things to consider
Don’t shake hands with coworkers or business associates. COVID-19 can transfer from one person to another by touching hands. Plus, if you shake someone’s hand, you’ll be closer than 6 feet to them. Instead, choose to greet someone with a wave or with words.
Even if your workplace opens for business, stay home if you feel sick. You don’t want to spread the virus at work.
Questions for your doctor
- How long do I need to stay home from work if I have been diagnosed with COVID-19?
- If I have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, should I go to work?
- Should I go to work if I think I have a cold?
- What symptoms would cause me to stay home from work?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.