Workers are starting to return to the office, whether they like it or not. Many seem to share one glaring concern: Covid.
A recent Gallup poll found that one in three American workers are “very” or “moderately” concerned about exposure to Covid at work. The findings come as many companies, including Apple, Goldman Sachs, Peloton and Capital One, are implementing new back-to-the-office plans.
The in-person work trend has accelerated in recent months: As of June, 50% of American workers were already splitting time between home and the office, and 20% were fully in-person, according to another survey by Gallup. Google returned most of its workers to the office three days a week in April, and its employees have been beset by regular Covid infections and exposure notifications, CNBC reported last month.
The US is still experiencing a steady pace again Covid cases: The nation’s seven-day average was more than 60,000 on Thursday, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s expected to increase this fall and winter as many people’s immunity from the Covid vaccine wanes and Americans spend more time indoors, where the virus spreads much more easily.
The recent Gallup poll found that two-thirds of respondents said they expect Covid cases to increase by a “large amount” or a moderate amount this fall and winter. If you still need to be in the office, here’s how you can stay healthy.
Stay up to date on your Covid vaccinations
Keeping up to date with your vaccinations is the best way to protect yourself from Covid. This means completing your main series and receiving the booster shots you are eligible for.
Adults who have already obtained their primary series are eligible for an updated booster vaccine that targets both the original strain of Covid and the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. Together, these subvariants account for nearly 87% of circulating cases in the US, according to the latest CDC data.
Pfizer’s vaccine is licensed for people 12 years and older, and Moderna’s is for people 18 and older. You’ll need to be at least two months out from your last dose of any Covid vaccine, the CDC says.
If you recently recovered from a Covid infection, you should consider waiting three months after testing negative before getting your updated vaccine, agency advisers say. Appointments for new boosters are likely to be available at a vaccination site near you.
Use a mask in some environments
Employers and local governments across the country have largely rolled back mask mandates. However, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends wearing a mask to the office if:
- You have not completed your main series.
- You have completed your primary series, but you are immunocompromised
- You have completed your primary series and are in an area with a substantial or high level of spread of Covid. Use the CDC’s data tracker to check infection and hospitalization rates in your area.
Even if you don’t fall into any of these categories, wearing a mask to the office can still give you an extra layer of protection against Covid.
If you don’t wear a mask in the office, consider wearing one on your commute to and from work. The CDC recommends wearing a mask on indoor public transportation, such as a subway or bus, especially if it’s crowded or poorly ventilated.
Wash your hands frequently
Washing your hands frequently can help prevent Covid, CDC says. When soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Specifically, it’s a good idea to wash your hands in the office before, after, or during these activities:
- Before, during and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before touching your face
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After using the toilet
- After touching trash
- After being in a public place, including public transport.
Keep your distance from others if you can
The CDC eased its social distancing recommendation last month, dropping the six-foot distance standard established at the start of the pandemic.
But keeping your distance from others can still help prevent exposure to Covid, the agency stresses. This is especially important when your county has a medium or high level of Covid spread, the CDC says.
Instead of measuring six-foot distances in your head, try to assess the quality of the air you breathe around you, White House Covid Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha advised at a virtual event hosted by by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation last month. .
“In a crowded indoor space with poor ventilation, you can become infected within minutes. If you’re outdoors with obviously…good ventilation, you can be outside for long periods of time and not get Jha said. “So context matters, crowds matter, ventilation matters. This is a major new update.”
Know what to do if you test positive, are exposed or have symptoms of Covid
HHS says you should stay home from work if:
- You tested positive for the virus
- You have symptoms of Covid
- You are not up to date on your Covid vaccines and you are in close contact with an infected person
Regardless of your vaccination status, the CDC says you should get tested:
- Immediately if you have any symptoms
- After five days, if you are exposed to Covid and have no symptoms. Testing too soon can give you a false negative.
If you test positive for Covid, the CDC says you should:
- Stay home and isolate yourself from others for at least five days. This is likely when you are most contagious.
- Use a high-quality mask if you must be with other people, whether at home or in public.
- Follow CDC guidelines for ending isolation.
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