After months of lockdown, the resulting economic and political pressure has led many states and cities to start opening businesses back up again. While the desire to “get back to normal,” is entirely understandable, we all need to be realistic about working in the time of COVID-19. Let’s be clear: The pandemic is not over. The fact that businesses are opening up means that, if you need it, now there’s room in the Emergency Departments and the Intensive Care Units for you.
Take All Measures Needed to Protect Yourself
If you need to go back to work, you still need to be careful. You still need to do all the necessary things: wash your hands, keep 6 feet away from others whenever possible, wear a mask. But because most of us work with and around, other people, you’ll need to take extra precautions.
Our current leadership has not provided mandatory national standards for workplaces. But the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has published guidelines for safe workplaces. That means that you need to take the initiative.
Keep Your Employer Honest & Responsible
Make sure that your company is following the guidelines. If not, ask why not. If you get push back from your employer, call the Legal Aid office in your area. If you’re unsure where to reach out for help, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association will refer you to a local group or an attorney that offers legal advice free of charge.
If you have any conditions that heighten your risk—respiratory ailments, diabetes, obesity, age 65 or older—contact your doctor to see what extra precautions you should take to go back to work.
So far, the workplaces that pose the most significant risks include nursing homes and care centers, meatpacking plants, and prisons. But outbreaks have recently been traced to churches and hospitality businesses as well.
Don’t Take a Risk That you Feel Isn’t Worth it
Each workplace presents different challenges. At a minimum, you should expect that your employer supports the following measures:
- Provide appropriate “personal protective equipment” (PPE). At the very least, this means masks. For medical workers, protection should be more extensive.
- Make it possible to sanitize common surfaces frequently, especially bathrooms and lunchrooms. Remember, droplets with COVID-19 virus can hang in the air for as long as 10 minutes. You don’t need to be next to someone’s sneeze to get sick!
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Elizabeth (Dr Liz) has over twenty years of experience in providing medical care to the elders. She is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care Medicine. Dr Landsverk founded ElderConsult Geriatric Medicine, a house calls practice, to address the challenging medical and behavioral issues often facing older patients and their families.