After seeing a peak and then a sustained decline in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths resulting from COVID-19, the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has rolled out a three-tier approach to get the nation back to its pre-coronavirus economic activities.
While this program is led by the Federal Government, it is ultimately up to governors how they will reopen states and localities. However, there are some universal criteria that states must follow to gradually reopen the economy.
Before transitioning from the stay-at-home orders to the three phases, certain criteria must be met. In order to move to less restrictive phases, there must be a dropping trend of documented cases over 14 continuous days or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests over 14 continuous days, according to guidelines set out by the White House and the CDC. Once the initial gating criteria are met, the local government can move into phase one.
This stage will permit establishments such as places of worship, movie theaters, restaurants, and sporting arenas to reopen if they abide by strict social distancing guidelines. Along with recommending stringent sanitation guidelines for permitted establishments to reopen, this phase also suggests telework for employees and minimizing nonessential travel.
Schools, daycare centers, and camps (and similar events) could resume, along with nonessential travel. Establishments permitted to reopen in phase one can remain open and are now permitted to relax their physical distancing to a moderate level. Bars can start reopening, with diminished standing-room occupancy, and gyms can stay open with strict distancing and sanitation protocols.
This phase would come into force when the state and/or locality has no evidence of a relapse. Worksites would see normal staff protocols without restrictions. Large establishments will be able to function under limited social distancing protocols; gyms will operate with standard sanitation protocols, and bars would be able to run with increased standing room occupancy.
As states across the country are reopening, there are many preparations that businesses can implement to stay compliant with government mandates, including re-integrating their workforce and encouraging customers to return to establishments.
Along with social distancing, maintaining sanitation is equally important. Encouraging workers to wash their hands at every available opportunity, including upon arriving at work; before and after eating; after touching doors, desks, keyboards, and other materials; using the restrooms, etc.
Whether it's an office environment or a retail/restaurant establishment, cleaning surfaces at least once a day is recommended, but more often for surfaces that are touched or used during the course of business. Examples of items to sanitize regularly throughout the day include handles, tables, elevator buttons, sinks, registers, and point of sale terminals.
Reminding employees and visitors to go home if they have symptoms or have been exposed to the coronavirus through signage is recommended. A protocol to contact the front office based on these circumstances should be implemented.
Identifying tasks suitable for telecommuting versus in-office is helpful for task completion, as well as promoting social distancing. Look at the perspective of work from two buckets - solitary or collaborative - and telecommuting and office time can be split accordingly. If an employee is tasked with writing reports, performing research, or calling experts, he or she could easily work from home. While collaborative work can be done remotely, it is better to be done at the office.
Along with face masks, there are other ways to reduce the potential for coronavirus transmission. Offices and other establishments can have fewer seats in common rooms, using tape to mark 6 feet or more of distance. When it comes to hallways, one way to stop face-to-face exposure is to have one-way corridors. While it might create longer days, staggering shifts to reduce the number of people in the office and rearranging breaks would also reduce unnecessary employee-to-employee interactions.
Ditching cash as an accepted form of payment is another way to reduce the likelihood of coming into contact with the coronavirus on currency, along with encouraging social distancing since cash doesn't need to be exchanged. Using online/digital payments or credit cards only is one way to accomplish this. Using designated entrances for workers (or customers), coupled with designated entrances and exits can help reduce opposing traffic and people meeting face-to-face.
While research continues to create a vaccine and render the coronavirus harmless, until that happens, businesses have many tools to reopen their businesses for the foreseeable future.