COVID-19 Management In The Workplace 

Five lessons on preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace that facility managers can learn from production studios.

By Cindy Salas Murphy

Facility management executives have faced unprecedented challenges in workplace environments over the past two years, with organizations being forced to pivot and adapt to ever-changing circumstances as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

It’s been an extremely stressful time as leadership deals with all of the moving pieces in this complex scenario. There have been innumerable obstacles, from the death of loved ones to massive workforce shortages to healthcare inequities — and the costs of COVID continue to climb.

COVID testing
(Photo: AdobeStock

Despite these difficulties, there are ways to empower businesses to help fight this historic battle for health and wellness and create a space where all workers feel safe, respected, and supported. By now, everyone knows about social distancing, masks, hand-washing and vaccinations, but many other workplace strategies can be implemented to help drastically reduce the spread of the virus. These additional policies and tools can be employed by any company to maximize safety and minimize the risk of COVID outbreaks.

Some of the strategies that have been proven effective in keeping workplaces safe include: conducting daily assessments, validating vaccination status, providing paid time off for receiving vaccination and boosters, mandating that all employees and visitors wear masks, and establishing weekly (or more frequent) testing.

Interestingly, movie and television production studios have found ways to reduce COVID transmission and keep their operations running. This industry is the gold standard when it comes to ensuring safety on the set. WithHealth has helped numerous studios to implement a set of science-based, practical policies that ensure transmission is drastically reduced on sets.

Here’s a look at five lessons that facility managers can learn from the policies of production studios:

  1. Test, test, and test again. Testing frequently (regardless of vaccination status) is key in order to ensure the virus doesn’t spread. Employees who enter the facility at least once a week should be regularly tested, and those who have been away from the workplace for a week or longer should be tested within seven days of returning to work.Efficient testing centers can turn around test results within three-and-a-half hours, sometimes even more quickly. Vaccinations are a crucial tool and will help keep people from getting extremely sick and being admitted to hospitals, but frequent testing is the most effective way to actually prevent the spread of COVID. If an employee tests positive, contact tracing is a key tool for identifying the type, extent and duration of contact they may have had with others. Then, keep the employee out of the workplace until they meet the criteria for returning to work.
  2. Set up a dedicated room for the purpose of testing/swabbing. In most organizations, these are typically conference rooms or other areas that aren’t heavily used. It’s key to make sure there’s an appropriate distance between swabbing stations and that there are protective shields that enclose each individual. Each station should be thoroughly sanitized with EPA-approved disinfectants between tests. Areas in these rooms should also be frequently cleaned with electrostatic sprayers, particularly high contact areas like doorknobs, light switches and elevator buttons.
  3. One size does not fit all, so adopt a bubble approach. To further minimize the spread of COVID, it’s important to not view the workforce as one single group. Rather, a safer approach is to identify specific teams of employees and create interaction bubbles. For example, Bubble A would consist of a group that works in close quarters and therefore requires more frequent testing. In a production studio, Bubble A would include individuals at highest risk for being exposed such as makeup artists who deal with unmasked talent and actors who film without masks, among others. Bubble A would be tested three times per week. Bubble B would be a group facing lesser risk and therefore testing less frequently, then Bubble C and so on. An entirely closed bubble is the most secure scenario, when all staff moves into one location and no one can leave for the duration of production — that includes ALL members of staff, talent and crew. The “Go-Big Show” was one production WithHealth managed that operated within a bubble, as well as the film “Red Notice.”
  4. Create a workplace safety protocol that guides all decisions. This protocol should outline on-site behavior and explore all possible COVID-related scenarios so the organization can be prepared for anything that might arise. Some questions to consider when creating these guidelines include:
    • Must I require COVID vaccinations for my employees?
    • What are my options for confirming vaccination status?
    • How should I handle vaccine exemption requests?
    • If I don’t require vaccines, how will I manage testing?
    • Should I require COVID testing for all of my employees?
    • What is the testing cadence?
    • How are we going to monitor daily the symptoms of every person that walks through the environment?
    • What is the walking path for a person to come through?
    • How do they enter?
    • Where are the hand sanitizers located?
    • Should I require my employees and customers to wear masks?
    • Who is unmasked and when?
    • Which masks are to be worn?
    • What is the duration of someone being unmasked?
    • Are face shields necessary in some circumstances?
    • Who goes in which bubble?

5. Have a testing staff that can work quickly and ideally overnight. Working overnight allows the tests to be processed rapidly so any infected persons can be removed from the premises ASAP. WithHealth teams have often worked overnight in order to ensure fast results. An individual can get tested in the evening and, by the next morning, they’re notified whether they’re positive – which alone has prevented countless outbreaks.

Cindy Salas Murphy is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of WithHealth. Click here to download WithHealth’s free guide, “Strengthening Workplace Safety: What Employers Must Do, Can Do, and Should Do to Protect their Workforce and their Customers from COVID-19.”