While Covid-19 cases continue to rise throughout most of the United States, most companies and businesses have “reopened” or are making plans to resume operations as soon as they can. Particularly for businesses in which on-site attendance in either required or critically important, they face unique challenges. Everything is about mitigating risk so that operations can resume while protecting staff and customers/clients and avoiding massively disruptive shutdowns.
Western Medical finds itself in the middle of many of these conversations as we provide critical supplies ranging from testing kits to university hospitals; face shields to clinics; and respirators and 3 ply masks to businesses (and their employees), home health agencies, and hospitals. To aid our clients we are bringing in leading experts to offer advice and tips on responding intelligently and responsibly to the pandemic.
We are starting off with Dr. Scott Conard.
Dr. Conard is a practicing family physician, long time Professor, and chief medical officer and the leading consultant to a number of companies that are “reopening” we spoke to him regarding his advice to companies on coming back to work during COVID:
Importantly, we are really referring to “return to office or plant” as most of these workers have never stopped working and in fact, they have been working harder than ever. While most of these companies that have remained partially or completely shut were planning on returning on July 1 due to the virus surge experienced in many parts of the US, many reopenings were delayed and are just now returning now.
We have deployed different strategies for the different type of companies but there are certain commonalities:
Foundation of return to office strategy based upon big 3:
- Social distancing
- Using PPE appropriately
- Careful hygienic standards
There are lots of information out there on basic common sense strategies (don’t have workers on top of each other, install plexiglass separating cashiers from customers, etc…) but we have been working on deeper strategies. For example, our companies have told us that while people are working hard remotely what has suffered most is collaboration which is critical in certain industries. How do you allow the resumption of collaboration and working in teams while mitigating risk?
Some of our companies wanted to divide up the staff and have them come in on different days (for example divide into 5 “teams” and have everyone start off in office one day a week) but that’s not a COVID compatible strategy for a number of reasons. Instead, we suggested a different strategy — divide into teams by what they do and who needs to be there in order for teams to function best for collaboration — for example, suppose a drafting/design team needs an architect, engineer, draftsman, marketing person, and finance support. Create 3 “teams” and bring them back together at the office for one week at a time (Team A is there week one then Team B comes next week then team C) and of course monitor everyone. If there is exposure during the week the worst-case scenario is only one entire team is exposed BUT by the time they are due to come back they can have treatment (86% of people who get COVID experience low impact) and by the time their “turn comes up” to come back to the office they will have effectively served a full 14 day quarantine period — thus mitigating risk to the company at large but allowing teams to function properly.
Another idea we are developing is as follows (remember this is just from the medical perspective and is not legal advice — must work with HR and legal team)
Divide the entire staff into 4 groups:
- Low risk — personally low risk and no contact with vulnerable people on a regular basis
- Low risk but contact with high-risk people at home (elderly or high risk)
- High risk
- COVID impacted — in some type of protocol
The idea is not to treat all employees the same with respect to COVID mitigation strategies and have more stringent precautions in place for the latter 3 groups that require more protection. This requires that companies come up with ways to voluntarily obtain this information and then educate the staff and then take necessary actions. For example, start the return to work with group one and have the latter 3 groups work outside of the office.
The challenge with COVID is this virus turns people into weapons to spread itself and we don’t know who these people are until too late.
Thus foundational points 2 and 3 — it is really vital to have and use PPE and to have policies and procedures in place for hygienic conditions in the workplace — but these policies and procedures must not only be established but followed as well.
We have already seen a number of lawsuits filed for wrongful death because people went to work got sick and died and while the companies had policies and procedures, managers didn’t enforce them. So it is critical that companies have complete alignment throughout their business:
- C suite completely educated, knowledgeable, and aligned with policies and procedures
- Managers/director level educated and enforcing procedures
- Staff Returning to work understanding how COVID works and their personal responsibility to stop the spread
So training/education is super important and not just lip service. For example, one company had very strict policies in place on the use of masks and face shields (due to the vulnerability of eyes we recommend both masks and face shields or goggles to employees that come in regular contact with people and social distancing is not feasible at all times) and regular use of hand sanitizer but the company didn’t provide any! Can’t just be words must be accompanied by action.
We advise our companies to employ a testing protocol based on the conditions (that is, what is the prevalence of COVID on the worksite or even in the community) as testing is costly, disruptive, stressful and challenging logistically and we only use PCR testing as the rapid testing is simply not accurate enough at this time.
- With low prevalence (less than 5%) we recommend a symptom-based testing strategy however if the rate goes up in community and workplace be more aggressive.
- At 10% more aggressive — we are tracking people that may have been exposed to any outbreak.
- At 15% random testing and testing entire departments that may have been exposed even if no direct contact/exposure
- Above 20% — global testing for the entire workplace
Logistics warehouse: long haul drivers bringing products to docks meet a receiver, unloads products and gets it divided and takes out to short-haul drivers.
Long haul driver had COVID — infects receiver and he gets it — he infects entire short-haul crew (all before any symptoms are shown) so 9 people in total had COVID before discovered (one guy showed symptoms and was diagnosed). So we advised that company test everyone within the “next ring” — everyone who had contact with anyone who tested positive (even without symptoms as the studies show that asymptomatic people can spread the virus) — so we advised the company to test and monitor everyone in the next “circle” and when we saw spreading we then tested everyone (more than 130 employees), implemented very strict protocols, isolated those with symptoms, ensuring that all protocols re PPE and hygiene was being followed and we were able to contain COVID and kept warehouse open.
In summary, follow the 3 critical points (effective social distancing; use of PPE; and proper hygienic practices) and ensure that the policies and procedures in effect for these requirements are understood by everyone from entry-level workers to executives and that managers are empowered and held accountable for enforcement.
For more information on how your company can mitigate risks associated with COVID contact Dr. Conard directly at Scott@scottconard.com
And for assistance with any medical supplies contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.