by Garrett Ponzi
We recently discussed how to minimize the spread of the highly contagious Delta Variant in the workplace with Rapid Antigen Testing. As more businesses return employees to the workplace, whether it be to manufacturing facilities or commercial office spaces, it remains critical to keep everyone safe and healthy. Absenteeism, driven by the need to quarantine both COVID positive employees, as well as the general workforce with whom they closely interacted, significantly impacts productivity.
In addition to workplace reopening, most secondary schools anticipate “in class learning” this fall, leaving many parents and teachers concerned about the potential for COVID transmission in the classroom and subsequently in the home. “I have been talking to school unions and superintendents across the US about how to keep schools safe. We have 5 tools and if we use some combination of them, we can get all kids back to school safely, full-time,” says Dr. Ashish Jha, general internist physician and academic serving as Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Adherence to these 5 layers of protection is especially important, given children under 12 do not currently have access to the vaccine.
These same 5 tools apply to the workplace as well. So, what are they?
According to the CDC, all three COVID-19 vaccines have proved to be safe and effective. “Millions of people in the United States have received vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history,” says the CDC. Although breakthrough cases have occurred, they still remain rare and symptoms are minimal.
OSHA’s “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19”, specifies HVAC engineering control options, which include the installation of high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates, and other ventilation modifications. Engineering controls, such as exhausting internal air (coupled with dilution ventilation to minimize the potential for exposure to airborne hazards), adjusting commercial HVAC systems to transfer more outdoor air to building interiors (rather than recirculating interior air to save energy costs), results in additional dilution ventilation and improved indoor air quality.
Masks remain the first line of defense in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Mask mandates, to a lesser extent than vaccine mandates, have become a hot button issue. The use of face coverings, however, does not need to be politicized. During the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the use of masks was recommended by the CDC. Face coverings still remain the first line of defense in the PPE arsenal as the most valuable tool an employer can utilize to prevent COVID transmission.
4) Testing and Screening
Frequent testing and screening for COVID-19 in the workplace, whether via Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) or Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), will be essential in minimizing COVID transmission as Americans continue to return to the workplace. It is becoming increasingly apparent that RATs will be a game changer in COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. Given the larger viral load carried and transmitted by those infected with the Sars CoV2 Delta variant, RATs will be even more effective in the identification of positive cases among employees, before they have an opportunity to infect others.
5) Social Distancing
Social distancing presents numerous challenges in most of our traditional work environments within commercial and industrial facilities. However, distancing remains an effective tool in preventing communal spread of COVID-19. Social distancing measures should be implemented wherever possible in the workplace. Common sense dictates that the greater the distance between individuals, the less chance for COVID transmission. Airborne viral contamination originating from an infected individual drops off exponentially as the distance between individuals increase.
What does all of this have to do with Swiss cheese?
Multiple Layers of Intervention Improves Success
Each of these 5 tools adds a layer of protection against COVID-19. One layer alone does not provide enough protection in the work environment where transmission rates are higher. An individual does not have to utilize all 5 tools, however the more tools implemented, the greater the reduction in COVID transmission, thus keeping individuals and others safe. The 5 tools provide multiple layers of protection from COVID transmission and have come to be known as the “Swiss Cheese Respiratory Pandemic Defense.” This layered defense mechanism recognizes that every intervention has holes and that no layer is perfect. However, the more layers of intervention (i.e., masks, vaccine, social distancing, improving indoor air quality and quarantine/isolation) the workforce utilizes, the greater the success rate at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
How Can We Help?
If your workplace needs assistance implementing policies and procedure that address these 5 tools and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 transmission, The EI Group can help! Our cumulative “boots on the ground” knowledge and experience can play a pivotal role in keeping your workforce safe and healthy. Please do not hesitate to contact us at (800) 717-3472 or firstname.lastname@example.org!