Social distancing in the workplace and other tips for working during the pandemic

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on October 22, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


While the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic saw many workplaces closing or implementing work-from-home policies, stay-at-home orders have now been lifted in many cities, with many employees going back to their workplaces. Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus itself is still very much actively infecting people with no known treatment or vaccine yet available.

It is likely a ways off before we get a widely-distributed vaccine, so social distancing in the workplace remains one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus—among other practices. From wearing a mask to taking a coronavirus test kit (such as the Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC*) before you return to work, read on for some key steps you can take to limit the spread of the virus at work.

1) Keep a safe distance

One of the main aspects of social distancing is maintaining a physical distance of at least 6 feet from other people. That 6 feet creates a buffer that helps keep you safe from virus-carrying respiratory droplets. Whenever a person sneezes, coughs, talks, or even breathes, they create droplets. If that person also has COVID-19, the virus can travel on those droplets, potentially infecting you if they end up in your nose, mouth, or eyes.

Depending on where you work, keeping any sort of physical distance may be difficult. Still, to the extent possible, try to maintain social distance between yourself and coworkers, clients, and customers—and consider voicing any concerns about social distancing to your supervisor or manager.

2) Wear a mask at all times

Along with social distancing at work, make sure you wear a mask. Studies show that wearing a mask or some other type of face covering can significantly reduce the risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus. Masks come in several different varieties, from N95 respirators to simple cloth bandanas wrapped around the mouth and nose. These types of masks all have the same basic goal in the context of the pandemic: keeping your respiratory droplets from reaching others and keeping other people’s respiratory droplets from reaching you (as the virus can be carried by these droplets).

One tip: stay away from masks featuring valves. These are designed to vent out your breath, allowing for a little more comfort. Unfortunately, that also defeats half the purpose of wearing a mask: that vent still allows the release of your own respiratory droplets, so you may unknowingly be infecting others if you happen to have COVID-19 and not know it (which is the case for many people who are asymptomatic).

Most importantly, remember to wear a mask whenever you are in public or around people you do not live with—and be sure you’re using the mask properly:

  • It should completely cover your nose and mouth.
  • Only handle the mask by the ear loops, and avoid touching the main piece that covers your face.
  • If your mask becomes wet or damaged, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Don’t pull your mask down to talk to your coworkers or customers. In general, don’t remove your mask at all until you have reached the safety of your home.

3) Wash your hands often

Germs can spread when you touch a germ-infested surface and then touch parts of your face, whether that be your nose, mouth, or eyes. That can apply to the novel coronavirus, too. Washing your hands frequently can help neutralize the virus before it reaches your nose, mouth, or eyes. Although respiratory droplets are the primary mode of coronavirus transmission, maintaining extra precautions like regular hand washing is always a good idea—especially if your work requires you to come into constant contact with frequently-touched surfaces.

Wash your hands with soap and warm water. The soap does not need to be antibacterial, but do make sure to foam up your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds before rinsing. Be especially diligent about washing your hands before you eat and after you have been around other people in a public place and touched anything that may have been frequently touched by others (such as doorknobs, phones, keyboards, and touchscreens).

If you are unable to wash your hands as soon as you’d like, consider applying a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

4) Ask about flexible schedules

If you work in an office, ask your manager about flexible schedules. If there isn’t an organization-wide work-from-home arrangement, ask about an alternating schedule. This could, for example, look like staggered shifts where half the employees come in from the morning to noon, while the other half comes in from noon to 5:00 pm. This makes workplace social distancing easier within the office, while also reducing the total number of people in the office at any given time. Remember: the more people there are in the same space and the more time they spend close together, the higher the risk of coronavirus transmission. All it takes is one infected coworker for multiple people in the office to get the virus.

5) Ask for accommodations

Ask your employer for proper accommodations that will help maintain a safe workplace. This can include:

  • A published list of social distancing guidelines for your workplace
  • Putting up clear plastic dividers between cubicles and workstations
  • Installing high-efficiency air filters and increased ventilation in the HVAC system
  • Discouraging any shared items (phones, desks, computers, other work tools)
  • Providing workers with free disposable face masks and hand sanitizer, along with disinfecting cleaners and disposable wipes to clean workstations
  • Encouraging hand washing
  • Taking everyone’s temperature when they enter the building
  • Implementing contact tracing

6) Get tested for COVID-19

If you are regularly in a people-filled workplace, you may need to get tested routinely as a safety measure to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you. So be sure to check what testing guidelines your organization has.

RT-PCR tests, such as the Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC,* are an effective way to determine if you’re infected with the novel coronavirus. These tests also provide essential information to disease control researchers who study SARS-CoV-2 and its transmission patterns.

There are several different COVID-19 testing options available. RT-PCR tests are considered the “gold standard” for diagnostic testing. Antibody tests, on the other hand, are non-diagnostic. They check for antibodies in serum or plasma components in a blood sample to determine a potential past infection. Rapid antigen tests are another option. They are less sensitive compared to the RT-PCR test and negative results may need to be confirmed by PCR testing if you have been experiencing symptoms or have had a known exposure.

7) Ask about working remotely

In general, owners and managers should refrain from reopening their offices unless it is necessary. Fortunately, with the advent of advanced communication technology and teleconferencing tools, creating effective remote work settings is easier and more feasible than ever. So even if the organization you work for doesn’t have a widespread work-from-home policy, considering asking your manager if that’s an option available for you specifically.


The Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC* is an FDA-authorized, at-home COVID-19 test that gives you secure digital results within 24-48 hours of the lab receiving your sample.


*This home collection kit has not been FDA cleared or approved. This home collection kit has been authorized by the FDA under an EUA. Read more at www.everlywell.com/products/covid-19-test/.



References:

1. Social Distancing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

2. Still Confused About Masks? Here’s the Science Behind How Face Masks Prevent Coronavirus. University of California San Francisco. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

3. How to Select, Wear, and Clean Your Mask. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

4. How to Protect Yourself & Others. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

5. Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), May 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

6. Tips for Social Distancing in the Workplace. Washington University in St. Louis. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

7. COVID-19 Guidance on Social Distancing at Work. OSHA. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

8. COVID-19 Overview and Infection Prevention and Control Priorities in non-US Healthcare Settings. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

9. When and How to Wash Your Hands. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

10. How You Can Plan for a Safe Reopening. Inc. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

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