While COVID-19 precautions are somewhat varied based on where you are located, one thing many centers have in common is that their office is closed or partially closed while staff primarily work from home. We are shifting, though, as the vaccines are distributed and communities begin to open. I see a wide variety of current status including:

  • Office remains closed, with staff primarily working for home. Staff are equipped for remote record keeping and to hold life skills classes, peer support groups and one to one meetings with consumers by Zoom or other video platform. Consumers are equipped with a device and digital access to participate.
  • Office is partially open, with staff rotating attendance at the office so that there is less crowding. They are instructed in new cleaning techniques and policies. The office has been upgraded to reduce the chance of transmission, including hand sanitizer stations, UV wands for disinfecting phones and bags, plexiglass screens added in face-to-face locations like the reception area, policy and method for checking temperatures for any person entering the office. Office is equipped with masks for use any time there is a face to face conversation. Staff rotate use of rest rooms, break room, and any other common areas so that there is not staff to staff transmission, whenever possible doors open hands free so that handles are touch free, etc. Handwashing and constant cleaning of surfaces take place.
  • Special arrangements are made for individuals who are at higher risk to continue to work from home if they feel that is necessary for their safety. This can be extended to include people with family members at high risk.
  • Office is open to consumers by appointment. Appointment times are staggered to reduce the likelihood of transmission between consumers. Staff also still staggered.
  • Office is fully staffed, open to consumers by appointment.
  • Office is open to the public. Temps, masks and hand sanitizers required. Proper hand washing and regular cleaning are emphasized. Due to the heavier use of cleaning supplies, people with multiple chemical sensitivities are consulted about what works best for them. (Home visits, visits first thing Monday morning so Friday’s cleaning chemicals have dissipated, etc.)

As you can see, “reopening” can mean different things. Whatever your policies, you need to develop and implement strategies for basic hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, social distancing, identification and isolation of sick employees, workplace controls and flexibility, and employee training. There is also a balance needed so that shifting from working at home to working in the office occurs in an organized purposeful way. In other words, you need a plan.

Your plan can include equipment, supplies and procedures including deep or more frequent cleaning that you can fund with your CARES Act funds. You can install some automatic door openers to reduce touching door surfaces and barriers at windows. You can enhance the ventilation in the building. You can purchase a temperature station (one CIL I know of even connected the temp station to the door opener, so the door won’t open to anyone with a fever. The receptionist can help the person with a fever through the barrier at the front desk, but they do not enter the building, reducing contamination.) Hint: Don’t keep an individual record of temperatures. If you keep them you create a medical record that has to be kept 30 years beyond the end of the individuals employment.

As soon as you are open again, you increase the possibility of staff or consumers bringing the infection into the work place. You need to have a procedure for what happens in that case. Even if you take all precautions and everyone — staff, volunteers and consumers — uses the provided soap, water and paper towns to wash frequently and properly (for at least 20 seconds) someone may test positive who was recently in your office. OSHA’s guidance on Returning to Work states, “Establish a protocol for managing people who become ill in the workplace, including details about how and where a sick person will be isolated (in the event they are unable to leave immediately) while awaiting transportation from the workplace, to their home or to a health care facility, and cleaning and disinfecting spaces the ill person has occupied to prevent exposure to other workers, customers, or visitors. Employers may need to collaborate wit health officials to facilitate contact tracing and notification related to COVID-19 cases or possible exposures.” The CDC has information regarding this at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html Talk to your county health office or check the state or county web pages for guidance in how this is handled locally.

If staff have been exposed, they need to know how to isolate/quarantine and monitor their own health. You policies should address how long everyone stays at home, how the building is sanitized, and what is required to occur before people return to work.

For more information about COVID-19 as it relates to the ADA and other Equal Employment Opportunity Laws, see this reference: https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws

Based on OSHA’s publication: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA4045.pdf

Is it time to re-open the Center?

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