On Tuesday, November 10, Irvine Company hosted a webinar with UCI Health on COVID-19 trends, returning to the workplace, and workplace wellness. You can view the webinar here. Experts on our panel included:
Susan Huang, MD, MPH
Professor, Infectious Diseases
Sr. Vice President, Workplace Operations
Linda Dickey, RN, MPH, CIC, FAPIC
Sr. Director, Epidemiology & Infection Prevention
Vice President, Engineering
SARS-CoV-2 is similar to other flu and cold viruses and is transmitted through close contact respiratory droplets from air or touch.
- Respiratory spray from ill person to your eyes, nose, open mouth
- Touching infected droplets on surfaces and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth
SARS-CoV-2 does not spread through skin, hair, clothes or shoes.
According to UCI Health, there is no evidence that COVID is spread from room to room through an air conditioning system. In some cases, there is evidence of COVID spreading beyond 6 feet within a contained room in conjunction with unmasked individuals who are singing or talking loudly. These instances of transmission are also associated with poorly ventilated, congested spaces, which are very different from an Irvine Company workplace environment.
Built environment factors can reduce the risk of transmission. According to Linda Dickey, these factors are:
- Constant air circulation
- Air filtration
- Introduction of outside air
- Air “exchanges” (dilution)
Irvine Company is taking additional steps, including:
- Increasing MERV filter ratings
- Increasing fresh air intake and building flushes
- Optimizing airflow with HVAC adjustments
- Monitoring relative humidity and carbon dioxide
All building air is replaced with outside air approximately once every hour. Additionally, the air from one workspace does not enter another company’s workspace until it has been highly diluted and filtered. For additional details, please see Irvine Company’s “Air Filtration, Ventilation & Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Testing Guide.”
- Use multiple barriers. Use multiple transmission barriers in the workplace – universal masking, hand hygiene, social distancing, daily symptom/temperature check, and staying home when ill – to help employees feel safe.
- Address droplet spray. Two-way masking is one of the greatest protections against COVID. Masks must cover the nose and mouth with a snug fit. If a coworker won’t wear a mask, ensure 6+ feet of distance or use plexiglass barriers.
Plexiglass barriers between cubicles or workstations allow teams to easily communicate and see one another – creating a sense of community and interaction ease – without requiring constant masking. If a coworker enters another employee’s cubicle, then both individuals should be masked.
- Address surface droplets. Infected droplets may last on a surface for several hours or up to two days, depending on the ambient environment. While ongoing surface sanitation is important, the best way to protect yourself is by washing your hands or using hand sanitizer before touching your face, mouth, nose or eyes. Get in the habit of consistently sanitizing your hands when in the office so your hands are always clean.
- Practice breakroom safety. Eating meals in the breakroom is one of the highest risk moments during the workday. Masks are removed and we’re excited to interact with coworkers, which can increase the risk for transmission. Provide disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and clean bag for mask storage. Remind employees to maintain at least 6 feet of distance and, when possible, encourage employees to eat meals outside.
- Speak up when feeling unwell. Safety begins with personal responsibility. We’re used to coming to work with a minor cough, cold or headache, but since these are also COVID symptoms, it’s important to stay home as soon as you begin to feel unwell. Even feeling “extra tired” may be an early COVID indicator. We are most infectious early in the disease, so encourage employees to play it safe and stay home if there’s any chance of illness.
With multiple promising vaccines on the horizon, some companies are re-evaluating their return timelines. During the webinar, Dr. Huang characterized the positive vaccination news as “the gateway to exit this pandemic.” Based on current knowledge at the time of this webinar, Dr. Huang says essential workers will likely receive the vaccine in January and the general population several months later.
While a number of factors beyond vaccination timing may impact a company’s return timeline, Dr. Huang stressed that a safe return is possible under California’s tier system as long as the workspace and employees are set up for success.
- Communicating clearly with employees about safe behaviors, including cleaning work surfaces, hand sanitizing and symptom monitoring.
- Fostering a company culture where everyone understands the important role they play to keep the team and community healthy.
- Reconfiguring furniture to support distancing and limit exposure risk, such as installing plexiglass barriers between workstations.
During return-to-the-workplace planning, one common concern organizations face is what happens in the event of a positive COVID-19 case. When we are notified that a customer, vendor or guest has tested positive for COVID-19 and been at one of our buildings, we activate our positive case notification process. This includes collecting details about the case, cleaning the affected areas, and communicating with key contacts at each company.
For teams who would like to be together in person but are not ready to return to the workplace, outdoor workspaces are a place to connect with low transmission risk:
- UV kills COVID
- Natural air dilution and air movement
- Safer for unmasked eating than an indoor breakroom
Irvine Company is taking additional measures to minimize transmission risk in outdoor workspace, including:
- Adjusting furniture for physical distancing
- Adding signage with safe usage reminders
- Installing sanitization stations
According to UCI Health, a face covering is one of the most important lines of defense against COVID transmission. Linda Dickey shared the following guidelines to help companies determine when to require face covering use in their workspace:
- If workstations are open with less than 6 feet of spaces between employees, employees should continue to wear face coverings to minimize transmission risk.
- If work stations are well spaced, plexiglass shields are in place, or employees are working in private offices, employees may opt to not wear face coverings when in their personal space.
- Face coverings should be worn when moving around the office or interacting with other employees in close proximity.
- Behavior also matters: if employees frequently lean back to check in with coworkers behind or next to them, continue to wear face coverings.
- Companies may wish to rotate teams to minimize office density or stagger work times. This can help minimize the number of employees on site and allow for better spacing, reducing the need for continual face covering usage and helping people work more comfortably in their space.
- Face covering should be worn in common spaces, like a restroom, hallway, elevator or lobby.
Irvine Company requires face covering to be worn when outside of your company’s suite. We are providing masks to those who enter the building without them, along with our Face Covering Guide. We have also placed signage throughout our workplace communities stating this requirement.
Questions about return-to-the-workplace planning or your specific workplace community? Visit ComeBackWithConfidence.com or contact your Customer Resource Team.