Advice from an Epidemiologist on Safer Spaces Post-Pandemic

Author TouchSource

Ajay Kapoor, TouchSource CEO, recently interviewed Dr. Wendy Bamberg, a renowned Physician and Epidemiologist on best practices for post-pandemic personnel and building safety. The key take-aways from this fascinating discussion are shared here as input for property, facility and HR professionals.

4 Key Pillars of Safer Spaces

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s that information changes quickly. Effective communication is more important than ever and can be harder to achieve. In a post-pandemic world, the challenge of managing safe spaces goes well beyond good communications. Property and building managers need sustainable processes for maintaining safe and healthy workspaces too.

To address communication and safe space challenges, Dr. Bamberg outlined four areas to evaluate for safer spaces:

  • Safe entry
  • Safe working 
  • Detecting illness
  • Sources of credible COVID-19 information

A comprehensive plan of action to ensure the safety of your employees, tenants and visitors should factor in these four components. Highlights of what to evaluate and address are outlined below.

Safe Entry

Protocols for safe entry into spaces vary based on state and local regulations, a building’s COVID-19 protocols, and the sensitivity of building occupants (e.g. an eldercare facility or school have stronger concerns.) So, whether it’s a coworking space, medical office building, school, library or apartment complex, requirements for safe entry will vary. Step one is to communicate what those requirements are, and to keep that information up to date. That’s where you can re-use your existing digital directories and signage to showcase that information. If you’re still using paper posters, you may want to consider digital signage messaging boards or wellness kiosks so that you can keep pace with daily and weekly changes.

When addressing safe and smart entry practices, start with the basics:

  • Wear a mask or face covering
  • Maintain a physical distance of a minimum of six feet (more is better)
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol often, including after touching surfaces and before touching your face
  • Regularly disinfect shared and high-touch surfaces

Make sure your visitors understand the expectations as much as possible before arriving. It’s better to overcommunicate. You may also want to establish contactless, self-service check-in procedures for guests and vendors. If so, be sure to communicate that and provide easy options such as scan to mobile check-in forms for your guests. If capturing a visitor’s agreement to your building policy is important, you’ll want to look at newer options such as mobile compliance capture or contact tracing for guests.

Safe Working

It’s important for the health of your employees that you maintain a safe working environment. To accomplish this, you first need to ensure that all building occupants, employees, guests and vendors maintain a minimum distance of six feet, while also wearing a mask or face covering. Empowering key employees to ensure that others adhere to protocols is recommended. It takes the burden off of regular employees who may be uncomfortable asking a guest or colleague to put their mask on.

Next, you may need to reorganize the layout of your space to maintain physical distance. Think about unidirectional pathways, signage to direct foot traffic, and decreasing foot traffic in common areas such as kitchens or break rooms. Many workplaces have open office areas. So, you may need to limit seating and use calendaring tools to enable employees to reserve these open spaces.

Finally, as the manager it’s your responsibility to effectively communicate these requirements with all building occupants, visitors and vendors. Display public safety posters, CDC updates, or other friendly reminders throughout your building and on your digital directories to ensure they stay top of mind.

Detecting Illness

There are three common scenarios regarding illness detection that you may encounter at your facility:

What if someone at the office has been exposed, but hasn’t been tested?

If someone has been exposed to COVID-19, either in or outside of the workplace, they should not come to work. They should be tested at least once (around day 5-7 is one strategy) and if they develop any symptoms.  Upon exposure, individuals should quarantine for 14 days. This duration cannot be shortened based on test results.

What if someone develops symptoms of COVID-19?

It can be challenging to determine if someone might have COVID-19 since the symptoms are similar to many other conditions. Err on the side of sending someone home when they have symptoms of COVID-19. If symptoms are mild and resolve in 24 hours, you could consider allowing them back to work. Loss of taste or smell is the only symptom that is common with COVID-19 and rare in other conditions. If symptoms persist or worsen, encouraging a medical evaluation can be helpful. If COVID-19 is suspected or diagnosed, the person should not come back to work until at least 10 days have passed since symptom onset, any fever is gone for at least 24 hours with no medications to reduce fever, and other symptoms are resolving.

What happens when some DOES test positive?

Make sure you establish a plan for next steps when someone has COVID-19, including how you will communicate with employees and partners. Anyone with COVID-19 should be out of work for at least 10 days since symptom onset (and no fever for 24 hours off fever-reducing medications, and other symptoms resolving, or 10 days since the positive test if they have no symptoms. Talk to the person who tested positive to ask them if they had close contact with anyone at work during the time period beginning 2 calendar days before their symptoms started or their positive test was taken and ending on their most recent date at work. Close contact means within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more (total, including several encounters totaling 15 minutes throughout the day), or other types of exposure, such as physical contact (hugging, shaking hands), being exposed to body fluids (being coughed or sneezed on), or sharing items that have been in the mouth, such as drinks, utensils, or smoking objects. People who have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 should be quarantined at home for 14 days; this timeframe cannot be shortened with testing.

COVID-19 Resources

With an abundance of resources available, it can be overwhelming to navigate. At the national level, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is an extremely helpful resource for guidance and information. Regulations and protocols vary at the state and local level, so it’s important to understand the regulations in your area. Search for your city or county and state public health agencies online. Lastly, there are many experts like Dr. Bamberg available who are more than willing to answer your questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during this time.

Useful resources include:

SUMMARY: Create and End-to-End Experience with Health and Safety in Mind

Update your COVID operation plans to include everything from how visitors will enter your building to how you will handle positive cases. Consider having a COVID-19 Coordinator that will be the point person for COVID-19 procedures and questions. Not only will you benefit from being prepared, but you’ll also improve the experience of your employees, tenants and visitors through:

-Communicating early and often

-Re-enforcing mask and physical distance policies

-Reorganizing your space to de-densify

-Communicating protocols within your building

-Handling exposure scenarios appropriately

-Keeping up to date on with local, state and federal resources

Listen to the replay to hear the full session with Dr. Bamberg.

Bio: Wendy M. Bamberg, MD

Dr. Bamberg is a public health expert, epidemiologist, and board-certified infectious diseases physician who left her government job in 2019 to start Medical Epidemiology Consulting, an independent consulting practice. Her experience includes:

  • 15 years in the public health practice, focusing on communicable diseases at the local, state, and federal levels, including international experience
  • 10 years leading the Healthcare Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance Program for the state at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
  • Board certification in infectious diseases following fellowship at Drexel University in Philadelphia
  • Completion of the Epidemic Intelligence Service training program at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention

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