What to Do About a Workplace Outbreak (Employers) - Zupnick Associates

( by Corinna Underwood )

People spend a large portion of their life at work, and often in close contact. If you find that some of your employees are testing positive for COVID-19, don’t panic. This does not necessarily mean that you are in for a workplace outbreak. If you take the right steps early on, you can protect workers and your business.

First of all, let’s clarify some definitions:

  • Confirmed outbreak: Two or more employees have tested positive for COVID-19. And this has happened within 14 days.

  • Suspected outbreak: Two or more employees have probable COVID-19 cases. Alternatively, the case is confirmed and one or more are probable. The onset has been within 14 days.

  • Recent COVID-19 exposure: One or more employees who have been exposed at less than 6 feet for at least 15 minutes to an employee with COVID-19. The exposer must have taken place at least two days before their onset of symptoms. Close contact does not have to involve 15 consecutive minutes.

  • Isolation: This is for employees who have symptoms or who have tested positive for COVID-19. They should remain at home until 10 days have passed since symptoms began or since their positive test.

  • Quarantine: This can be used when an employee has had a possible exposure to COVID-19. Employees in quarantine should stay home, remain separate from others, and monitor their health. An employee may have to quarantine more than once if they have several exposures.

Preventing Workplace Outbreaks

You can help prevent a serious outbreak in your facility by reducing the spread of COVID-19 and promoting a healthy work environment. Don’t forget to follow your local and state public health mandates. Reduce spread by:

  • Self-assessment: Encourage employees to monitor themselves for symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. You can take an online self-screening test here. Tell employees who have symptoms to stay home and ask them to get tested.

  • Screen employees: If you do not wish to rely on your members of staff to self-screen, you can screen at work. Screening should be performed before they enter the work environment. Screening should include a temperature check and questions about symptoms. Any employee with symptoms should be sent home immediately. They should also be encouraged to get tested.

  • Maintain social distancing at work: Whenever possible provide screening. Until screening can be provided, encourage employees to stay at least six feet apart.

    Make sure employees wear masks as per state and local guidelines.

  • Identify potential points of exposure: Conduct a workplace hazard assessment. This will help you to determine if and where personal protective equipment (PPE) or special adaptations are needed for different workplace roles. If PPE is needed, you should provide it for your employees at no cost. You should also train your employees to use it correctly. 

  • Re-work shifts: Reallocate shifts so that employees can cohort. Keep logs of where and when employees need PPE and in areas where they don’t. This facilitates contact tracing should someone become infected.

Preventing an Outbreak from Worsening

You can help to reduce the risk of an outbreak in your workplace by ensuring that sick employees stay home and following these cleanliness guidelines.

  • Regular cleaning: Routine cleaning and disinfecting should be maintained throughout common areas of the workplace. Surfaces that are frequently touched by several people, such as door handles, phones, desks, light switches, and faucets should be disinfected several times per day. Shopping carts and POS keypads should be cleaned after each use.

  • Keep a supply of sanitizing products: Make sure you have plenty of soap and disinfectant. You should also supply plenty of gloves and other PPE as needed throughout the workplace.

Work environments can present unique challenges to COVID-19 prevention and action. This is mainly because many of them involve crowded settings and jobs with a high level of employee interaction as well as interaction with the public.

These are factors that can, in some circumstances, allow the virus to be spread easily. 

Reviewing and recognizing processes and policies within your workplace can help you limit your employees’ risk and exposure. Additionally, following your state and local recommended guidelines can help you avoid the panic of a workplace outbreak.   

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