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OU Medicine Offers Guidance as Employees Head Back to Work

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OKLAHOMA CITY – As more people return to their traditional workplace environments after the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, OU Medicine is offering guidance and a Back-to-Work Toolkit to assist businesses as their employees enter a “new normal.”

Although the number of new COVID-19 diagnoses peaked in early April, new cases are still being diagnosed, which means employers should implement strategies to prevent the spread of the virus, said Dale Bratzler, D.O.,  OU Medicine enterprise chief quality officer.

“The virus is still in our state,” he said. “One of the most important things we have learned about this virus is that a substantial portion of people who become infected have no symptoms but can still spread the virus. They may feel fine, but they may be shedding the virus. We just have to assume that anybody we come into contact with could be infected, and take precautions accordingly.”

In addition to having a mandatory mask policy, disinfecting high-touch surfaces, and practicing social distancing among employees, Bratzler recommends that business owners consider several other factors. Employees who are over age 65 or have immune-compromising or chronic health conditions should work from home if possible. He also recommends having a flexible sick leave policy so that people who feel sick don’t feel compelled to go to work, potentially infecting others. In addition, parents of young children may be unable to find child care at this time, but policies that permit them to work from home would also allow them to care for their children.

“I think telework has been an important part of flattening the curve in Oklahoma,” Bratzler said. “But for employees who must go to the workplace, I strongly recommend wearing masks. The reason you wear a mask is to protect the people around you – the mask keeps droplets from coming out of your mouth when you speak, cough or sneeze.”

OU Medicine’s Back-to-Work Toolkit contains a variety of evidence-based resources to keep employees as safe as possible from infection with the virus. General ongoing recommendations include: 

  • Practice physical distancing, including limiting the number of people in elevators.
  • Wear face masks at all times unless seated with appropriate physical distance from others.
  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, or use hand sanitizer.
  • Clean and sanitize surfaces regularly, including door handles, light switches and other high-touch surfaces.
  • Stay home and call a medical professional if you’re sick.

For meetings, OU Medicine offers several tips, including:

  • Hold virtual meetings if possible.
  • Meetings should have 10 or fewer people physically present.
  • Make sure the room is well-ventilated.
  • Remind employees to avoid shaking hands.
  • For in-person meetings, keep a record of the names and contact information of all participants for at least one month. If a participant becomes ill with COVID-19, this will help public health authorities trace people who may have been exposed.

For shared spaces, such as break rooms and conference rooms, advice includes:

  • Wear masks while in shared spaces.
  • Consider staggering employee shifts to reduce the number of people sharing common areas.
  • Create a central location for food or other vendor deliveries.
  • Keep plenty of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and other cleaning products on hand.

In addition, some employees may face difficulties readjusting to the workplace because of the stress associated with COVID-19. OU Medicine recommends that employers be aware of the signs of physical and emotional exhaustion, such as chronic fatigue, impaired concentration and insomnia, in order to address problems early.

Employers who would like to receive a free Back-to-Work Toolkit can visit oumedicine.com/healthhub and sign up for OU Medicine’s blog. A follow-up email will be sent with a link to the toolkit. 

Businesses that want to inquire about physician expertise can email healthmatters@oumedicine.com.