Adapted from our July 24, 2020 newsletter. Information is current as of July 24, 2020.
COVID-19 hasn’t gone away yet. While Minnesota hasn’t had the dramatic rise of some states, keeping our rate under control is taking continued vigilance.
As we’ve been learning more about how the virus spreads, the recommendations to control it have been refined. We’ve been seeing evidence of superspreading events, where one person (who may not know he or she is infected) infects lots of other people. People are infectious before they develop symptoms. Most cases can be traced to respiratory emissions, but there is still debate about whether that’s mainly from the large droplets that rapidly fall to the ground when people talk or cough (droplet transmission) and what role miniscule virus particles traveling or lingering in the air plays (aerosol transmission). Becoming infected by touching contaminated surfaces (contact transmission) hasn’t been ruled out, but doesn’t seem as much of a factor.
Why all that stuff about the type of transmission makes a difference: The guidelines on sanitizing surfaces are to control contact transmission. Keeping a distance of six feet controls droplet transmission. Wearing a face covering controls droplet transmission and seems to limit aerosol transmission.
The best measures to take continue to be to stay home if you feel ill, wear a face covering in public, maintain physical distancing, and avoid crowded spaces, especially crowded indoor spaces. And practice good contact precautions – wash your hands well, use hand sanitizer (but remember that it doesn’t work on dirty hands), clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces often.
As people are venturing out more and with the new Executive Order requiring face coverings we’ve been getting a new round of questions.
My employees won’t wear face coverings. Under Executive Order 20-54, MNOSHA can issue citations if you don’t require face coverings. But you can be creative in ways to make that person work alone, such as by creating walls higher than face level around that person. If the employee can’t wear a face covering for health reasons, provide a clear face shield that wraps around the face, completely covering the chin.
We can’t stay away from customers, but they don’t always wear face coverings (or don’t wear them over their noses). If your employees need to be close to customers or vendors, install shields or sneeze guards to serve as barriers and another layer of protection. Look at other ways to create distances, such as putting low tables in front of reception desks. Employees still need to wear face coverings when around others.
We’re cleaning surfaces conscientiously. Is there anything else we should do? Open doors. If you can install higher efficiency filters in your air handlers or bring in more outside air, do that (check with your HVAC company first).
What do we do if an employee reports contact with someone who tested positive? Consider the extent and duration of exposure. If that employee was in a crowded bar, that’s high risk. If the employee was at an outdoor picnic, the risk is less. If the time spent with the COVID-positive person is less than 15 minutes, the risk is lower. If the employee was in a high risk situation, encouraging that person to stay home is the safest option.
- Isolate the employee: if they can work from home, they should. If not, can you have them work on their own, away from others?
- Require the employee to wear a face covering and to be particularly diligent about following the contact precautions (cleaning/disinfecting, washing hands).
- Send the employee home if they show any symptoms
What do we do if an employee tests positive for COVID19? Make sure they stay home for ten days* after the first positive test. If they developed symptoms, add 24 hours after they’ve become symptom-free to the ten days. Let other employees know that an employee has tested positive (but do not give out the name of the affected employee). If other employees worked in close proximity to the affected employee, ask them to take the same precautions we list above – work at home or away from others, wear a mask….
An employee is traveling to a COVID-19 hot spot. Can I require they stay home for 14* days when they get back? Take into consideration where they are going and what places they’ll be visiting. Driving short distances will usually be less risky than flying, because the employee is likely to be around fewer people (see FAQ on flying versus driving). If the trip is likely to involve visits to bars, the risk is greater than if someone is visiting family. An outdoor waterpark is probably less risky than an indoor waterpark. Minnesota does not require 14-day* quarantine when returning from another state. Because of that, we do not know if the employee would be entitled to unemployment benefits under the CARES Act. If the employee’s trip seems high risk, follow the same precautions recommended for contact with someone who tested positive. Can you have the employee work from home? Can you have the employee work alone, with no or limited contact with other employees? *On July 17, the Centers for Disease Control changed its recommendation for isolating those who are infected with COVID-19 from 14 days to 10 days.
Is it safer to travel by plane or by car? You’re still more likely to die in a car crash than in an airplane crash. But you can avoid groups of people more readily if you travel by car.
- Wear a face covering in public places (restrooms, stores, gas stations)
- Choose outdoor dining or take-away rather than eating in a restaurant
Air travel puts you in tight quarters with a lot of other people who may be fine or may be infectious. To reduce risk:
- Check the airline’s precautions before you book. Your health is worth the extra cost to fly an airline that is not filling every seat and that lists the precautions they are taking.
- Wear a face covering in the airport and on the plane
- Keep your distance from others as much as you can. Check in ahead of time. Bring hand sanitizer (no larger than 12 ounces). Familiarize yourself with TSA requirements, so you can move through security as efficiently as possible.
What difference does ventilation make? The virus spreads through droplets and aerosols, the smaller particles we transmit when we cough, sneeze, talk, and sing. That transmission is not as good or effective outdoors or where there is a lot of fresh air. In summer and early fall, keeping doors open will help. ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) has recommendations for changes in building operations to control airborne exposure to coronavirus. This may require changes to your HVAC system, or simply changing the filter efficiency. We recommend you contact your HVAC rep now to see what can be done from a building operations standpoint.
Preparedness Plans You should have a COVID19 Preparedness Plan in place by now. If you have questions about that, please let us know. Watch for recommended plan updates in future newsletters.
Industrial hygiene in the news We used to have to explain what we meant by the term PPE, but now we hear about it almost daily on all the news outlets. IH, or industrial hygiene, is (was) an even more obscure term. People would ask if industrial hygienists clean buildings.
Well, sort of. Industrial hygiene “is the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers’ injury or illness.”
In this time of coronavirus, Janet’s extensive knowledge as a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) is invaluable. She is the one behind answering so many coronavirus related questions and keeping up on the latest research. And now IH is in the mainstream media: ABC News recently did a story on “How air purifiers and cleaners may help keep you safer indoors from COVID-19” that quotes several CIHs we know.
Deaths don’t stop for a virus MN OSHA came out with its quarterly fatality investigations log and its serious injury log. It doesn’t look like the pandemic reduced the number of fatalities, as there were fourteen in this most recent quarter ending June 30. Minnesota had nine serious injuries
- Six fatalities were COVID-related. Their workplaces included meat processors, a hospital, a nursing home, a therapist’s office, and a provider of community housing services.
- An employee was electrocuted when an aerial lift contacted a powerline and another was seriously injured from power line contact. We don’t know any details, but we know the precautions to avoid this: always keep a minimum of ten feet away from overhead powerlines. Look up. Use a spotter.
- Two employees were hit or crushed by skid steers. One employee was seriously injured by equipment. Prevention: Be especially alert around heavy equipment. Wear high visibility PPE. Use spotters if you can’t keep a close eye on the skid steer.
- Three fatalities and two serious injuries were caused by falls.
- One fatality was probably from heat.
- One serious injury was burns from an arc.
OSHA’s fatality investigations try to find out why someone died, why an employee came to work and will never go home. When we read these, we think about ways these deaths could be prevented. But each victim has a family who only knows their loved one is never coming home again. Each of the serious injuries is an advance warning, a reminder that it could have been a fatality.