CDC’s virus guide­lines could cause prob­lems across busi­ness world


No fist bumps or hand­shakes. No car­pool­ing or cof­fee pots. Face masks ev­ery­where.

Amer­i­cans who start re­turn­ing to of­fice jobs will find a sub­stan­tially dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment than the one they left weeks ago, if their em­ploy­ers fol­low guid­ance from the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion on re­open­ing safely dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

While restau­rants, re­sorts and re­tail stores have started re­open­ing, many busi­nesses with em­ploy­ees who can more eas­ily tele­work have said they plan to stay closed at least un­til La­bor Day.

But the eco­nomic dev­as­ta­tion of the pan­demic has hit white-col­lar work­ers, too, with law firms, man­age­ment com­pa­nies and other firms lay­ing off or fur­lough­ing staff.

Some CDC rec­om­men­da­tions would re­quire in­vest­ment in new equip­ment to im­prove ven­ti­la­tion and air fil­tra­tion, and to at­tempt to kill germs with ul­tra­vi­o­let light. The guide­lines call for re­ar­rang­ing fur­ni­ture to keep work­ers 6 feet apart, and phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers to sep­a­rate them. Trash cans that re­quire lift­ing a lid should be re­placed with no-touch op­tions.

Other guid­ance would be a strug­gle for many com­pa­nies to im­ple­ment with­out mov­ing into larger, more ex­pen­sive spa­ces — es­pe­cially to keep work­ers 6 feet apart, even on el­e­va­tors.

The CDC rec­om­men­da­tions say work­ers should be en­cour­aged to drive alone rather than shar­ing rides or tak­ing pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

Com­mu­nal drinks and snacks should be re­placed with sin­gle-use items.

Work sta­tions, key­boards, tele­phones, handrails, print­ers and copiers, drink­ing foun­tains and door­knobs should be san­i­tized reg­u­larly. Meet­ings and group lunches should be out­doors if pos­si­ble.

Some rec­om­men­da­tions are stricter than what the CDC pre­vi­ously sug­gested.

In early May, the agency told em­ploy­ers to “en­cour­age work­ers to wear a cloth face cov­er­ing at work if ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Now, the CDC said “em­ploy­ees should wear a cloth face cov­er­ing to cover their nose and mouth in all ar­eas of the busi­ness.”

Vis­i­tors should also be asked to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart from em­ploy­ees. Em­ploy­ees with a sick fam­ily mem­ber were pre­vi­ously told to fol­low safety pro­to­cols; the CDC now said those work­ers should stay home.

Of­fices that have been closed for sev­eral months, the CDC warns, should also be checked for mold, ro­dents and stag­nant wa­ter be­fore re­open­ing.

Rick Wold­en­berg, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Ver­non, Ill.-based toy com­pany Learn­ing Re­sources, said the guide­lines were “kind of just a nice way of say­ing you can’t go back to the of­fice.”

His 300 em­ploy­ees moved into new head­quar­ters March 3 and then to their homes a week later. The re­mod­el­ing did not ac­count for a pan­demic: There are few in­te­rior walls, and the win­dows don’t open.

Even if they could con­stantly ven­ti­late and san­i­tize, he said, he thinks it would leave em­ploy­ees un­com­fort­able and on edge.

“Hav­ing to wipe ev­ery­thing down ev­ery five min­utes is just a re­minder you’re in a dan­ger­ous place,” he said.

He said he ex­pects most of his team will keep work­ing from home un­til it is clearer how risky cer­tain be­hav­iors are, such as touching shared sur­faces.

“We don’t have to be on the bleed­ing edge; we can wait and see how other peo­ple have fig­ured it out,” he said.

Columbia Sports­wear is one such com­pany.

“This is a rare in­stance where the gov­ern­ment is so many steps be­hind the pri­vate sec­tor, it’s not even funny,” said Peter Brag­don, the chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer and gen­eral coun­sel for the in­ter­na­tional cloth­ing brand. “We ben­e­fit in part by be­ing a global or­ga­ni­za­tion that’s op­er­at­ing in coun­tries where the pub­lic health is­sue has been man­aged com­pe­tently.”

He said only about a third of em­ploy­ees can safely re­turn to the Port­land, Ore., head­quar­ters un­der the guide­lines. But, he said, the costs will still be high, and in­vest­ing in changes as guid­ance shifts is a risk.

Con­cerns over chang­ing reg­u­la­tions will be a prob­lem across the busi­ness world, said Travis Vance, an at­tor­ney at Fisher Phillips who ad­vises firms on work­place safety.

“A lot of com­pa­nies have never had haz­ards that they knew of, so they didn’t pay at­ten­tion to OSHA reg­u­la­tions be­fore,” he said. “Now, ev­ery work­place is a haz­ardous en­vi­ron­ment.”

As many em­ploy­ees work from home amid the pan­demic, some com­pa­nies see it as a test to mov­ing to re­mote work.

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