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Social Distancing: Frequently Asked Questions and Recommendations for Businesses

Q. How can one practice social distancing in public transportation?

A.
While the best idea would be to avoid going out as far as possible or use a personal vehicle, there are certain measures you can take to limit the risk of exposure when public transportation cannot be avoided. You should wash your hands before leaving and after reaching your destination, and use hand sanitizers as required. It is important to wear a face mask, keep it on unless it is absolutely essential to remove it, and not touch it unnecessarily. Also, refrain from touching your face, and cover your coughs and sneezes with either a tissue that you throw in a bin after use or with your elbow.
Ensure 6-feet distance from others as much as possible, and carry adequate supplies such as disinfectant wipes, sanitizers, tissues, and extra face masks. Refrain from touching surfaces, use tissues and/or disinfectants where possible and feasible, and opt for touchless payment options where you can. The CDC has more details on how you can protect yourself when using public transportation.

Q. Should employees who have been exposed but are not showing symptoms be allowed to work?

A.
Employees who have been exposed but do not have symptoms should stay at home and social distance themselves for 14 days at least. Other employees who may have come in contact with the Covid-positive employee should self-monitor for symptoms and wear face masks in public. The CDC has many resources for businesses as well as comprehensive FAQs that can give you a lot of useful information.

Q. What really comprises social/physical distancing?

A.
CDC defines social distancing as “maintaining a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your household.” The safe space referred to here means keeping a distance of at least six-feet between yourself and a person not from your household, irrespective of indoor or outdoor spaces.
Social distancing also implies limiting your social interaction to absolutely essential and avoiding meeting people in person unless vitally important.

Q. What areas should I focus on as a business owner to promote physical distancing and keep my employees safe?

A.
As a business owner, taking adequate measures to ensure employee safety is pivotal and required by law.

The following steps can be adhered to for safety-compliant premises:
1. Figure out the optimum staff size that must be present in-person to run operations and allow other employees to work remotely. Alternate shifts and flexible working hours can limit the risk further.
2. Implement physical changes to ensure adequate social distancing. Rearrange and restructure workstations, meeting areas, and break rooms. Install shield barriers and enclosures on tables and counters. Place limited capacity signs in the washroom, elevator, and rooms.
3. Install relevant social distancing signs and six-feet-apart floor markings at all critical points.
4. Focus on employee awareness and training about COVID-19 prevention and the importance of physical distancing.
5. Limit the number of office visitors to absolutely essential and duly remind them about your social distancing policies. Create and communicate an SOP on how to manage visitors and provide proper signage for its smooth execution.
6. Promote interviews, client meetings, and customer interactions to be held virtually over in-person.
7. Discourage non-essential work travel.
8. Be approachable and create a work atmosphere where employees do not hesitate to share their health and safety concerns.
9. Provide ample cleaning and safety supplies such as sanitizers, wipes, hand-washing essentials, masks, etc.
10. Create an isolation zone and a safety protocol to handle potential cases.

Q. What are the CDC recommendations for opening my business back?

A.
The CDC has rolled out a comprehensive guidance document for businesses in the process of resuming operations. The document specifies general recommendations about workplace activities that:

1. Prevent and reduce transmission among employees by:
a. Encouraging sick employees to stay home
b. Conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks
c. Identifying where and how at work workers might be exposed to the virus and taking measures to limit such exposure
d. Separating sick employees and putting in place a plan to handle a suspected or confirmed case
e.Educating employees about the preventive measures they can take at home, work, and/or during the commute

2. Maintain healthy business operations by:
a. Identifying a workplace coordinator to manage all COVID-19-related issues
b. Encouraging work from home and flexible working hours and implementing a flexible and supportive leave policy
c. Taking adequate steps to protect high-health-risk employees
d. Communicating supportive workplace policies clearly, frequently, and via multiple modes
e. Assessing essential business functions and considering suspending non-critical operations
f. Implementing social distancing policies and practices

3. Maintain a healthy work environment by:
a. Considering improving the building ventilation system
b. Ensuring the safety of the water system post the lockdown
c. Providing supplies for hand cleaning and face covering
d. Ensuring routine cleaning and disinfecting
e. Encouraging virtual meets and discouraging non-essential work travel
Please visit the CDC website for detailed guidance and to download the official toolkit for businesses resuming operations.

Q. What are OSHA regulations on business reopening amid the outbreak?

A.
In its Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, OSHA recommends certain steps that employers can take to reduce employees’ risk of exposure. These steps include:
1. Developing an Infectious disease preparedness and response plan that takes into account the guidance issued by the federal, state, local, tribal, and/or territorial health agencies.
2. Implementing and encouraging basic infection prevention measures such as frequent hand washing, covering face while sneezing and coughing, staying home if sick, etc.
3. Developing policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick people, if and as appropriate.
4. Developing, implementing, and communicating workplace flexibilities and protections.
5. Implementing workplace controls that can be engineering controls like high-efficiency air filters, and administrative rules like virtual meetings in place of in-person meetings.
6. Encouraging safe work practices by creating an environment that promotes hygiene through handwashing signage and preferably no-touch supplies.
7. Encouraging the use of PPE such as gloves, masks, etc. to support other preventive measures but not replace them.
Following the relevant existing OSHA standards to ensure worker health and safety.

OSHA has also issued certain general guidelines as acceptable practices that both employees and employers may follow. These include:
1. Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 minutes or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
2. Avoiding touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
3. Practicing good respiratory etiquette, including covering the mouth when coughing and sneezing.
4. Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
5. Staying home if sick.
6. Recognizing personal risk factors.
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