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 before you return to work, read on for some key steps you can take to limit the spread of the virus at work.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Ask your employer for proper accommodations that will help maintain a safe workplace. This can include:
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.
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.
Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and looking for relief? Get COVID-19 treatment online via Everlywell's Virtual Care offering.
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