After months of anxiety and financial hardship, many business owners finally feel as if they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Across Arkansas, we’re seeing retail shops, restaurants and service providers begin to slowly reopen their doors. Industrial facilities, manufacturers and other large-scale processors are following, with some expected to return to full-scale operations in the near future, if not already in process.
As of now, Arkansas’s economy is on the road to recovery. But the uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. In fact, in certain industries and sectors, it’s more palpable than ever. In the weeks to come, companies will be asked to navigate unprecedented operational challenges. They will have to decipher various state and federal guidelines and standards in order to reduce illnesses, minimize transmission risk and, above all, keep their employees and the communities they serve safe.
At CTEH, we understand these business leaders’ concerns. And we know from decades of experience how challenging it can feel for companies to prepare for these types of crisis situations. For more than 22 years, we have responded to natural and man-made disasters around the globe. During this time, our renowned scientific experts have been on the front lines of international health responses, including the Avian influenza, Zika virus, and Ebola outbreaks.
With each, we have developed infectious disease response plans to help businesses and organizations get back on their feet — safely, swiftly and successfully. And our current international coronavirus efforts are no different. Every COVID-19 reopening plan should be tailored to fit the specific organization’s needs. However, in general, they should address the following components:
- Screening controls: Bio-monitoring and screening is an effective method to capture personnel’s information during the return to offices or job sites. This includes taking temperatures; evaluating and recording symptoms; and, if feasible, implementing an online self-assessment program for employees to complete before arriving for work. Please note, symptomatic individuals should be isolated and transported offsite immediately for medical evaluation. Those who have come into close contact with the individual in the last 48 hours should wear a mask, self-quarantine and self-monitor.
- Cleaning and disinfection protocols: Studies show the coronavirus can live on certain surfaces for up to four days. To support a safe and secure workplace environment, businesses should implement proactive and reactive cleaning and disinfection protocols that allow for adequate disinfection contact times and meet the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2. Depending on their needs and existing capabilities, businesses may also want to consider a third-party review or gap assessment of their processes.
- Social distancing practices: Companies should implement protocols to keep at least six
feet of distance between employees. This may include adjusting traffic flow within the facility, limiting elevator passengers, closing common areas, reconfiguring office spaces and providing needed personal protective equipment or CDC-recommended face coverings when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
- Effective communications: As employees return to work, companies should consider developing internal FAQ documents, which includes regularly updated, site-relevant information. They should also install prominent signage that reinforces proper hygiene practices and CDC-recommended social distancing guidelines.
For the vast majority of businesses, responding to a global pandemic of this magnitude is uncharted territory. Never underestimate the importance of preparation. With effective COVID-19 response plans in place, Arkansas’s business community can help ensure our state’s safe return to work.
Editor’s note: Chris Kuhlman, Ph.D., DABT, CIH is a project toxicologist with CTEH, a scientific consulting firm headquartered in North Little Rock. The opinions expressed are those of the author.