The Department of Health has raised code red in the country after six people have been confirmed to have COVID-19. According to DOH press statement, one of the cases had a history of travel to Japan. Deloitte Philippines, a professional services firm, confirmed it was its employee.
The increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases begs the question: Is working remotely a more sensible choice? If you have no choice but go to the office, should you wear masks? And should you still push through with that work-related travel?
You probably have these questions, and more, in your mind as you go about your daily commute to the office. The World Health Organization (WHO) says, these are all valid questions.
WHO recently went live on Facebook to address the risks COVID-19 poses at the workplace. Health expert Dr. Rosamund Lewis offered valuable insights and great advice on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within workspaces.
Dr. Lewis is currently the head of the Smallpox Secretariat at WHO and is an experienceed public health physician with expertise in immunization, communicable diseases, emergency response, and global health leadership. Here are her answers to the most common questions of office workers.
Do employees need to wear masks in the office?
According to Dr. Lewis, the person who shows the symptoms of COVID-19 should be the one wearing the mask and not everyone else. Many people are not used to wearing masks and end up adjusting them and touching their face more frequently than they should.
"In fact, that mask can spread the infection even more easily especially when it's not properly put on, removed, and disposed of in a closed bin," warns Dr. Lewis.
What should we do if a colleague is found to be infected with COVID-19?
"I think if someone is sick with COVID-19, they would not be at work," says Dr. Lewis. "It means that they have been tested and if they are positive then they would be immediately isolated. First, the employee will not work anymore. Somebody will already have told them to stay where they are or report to a hospital."
Dr. Lewis was quick to emphasize the importance of containment, especially once a case has been discovered. In order to contain a new outbreak, public health workers are tapped to do 'contact tracing.'
"If someone has been identified, then the public health worker will try and trace all of the contacts of that person who is ill."
If you think you have been exposed, you may have to be mindful of the slightest feeling of being unwell. "Don't tough it out. Don't come to work. Let your employer know your situation, what your concerns are, and ask them what you should do," she advises.
How often should I be wiping surfaces (e.g. tables, chairs, pantry) use at the office with disinfectants?
While there is no absolute answer to this, Dr. Lewis says it is better to be on the side of caution by disinfecting a surface at a frequency one is comfortable with. Once or twice a day is fine but if you are sharing that space with other people, you might want to disinfect several times a day.
How do we handle scheduled business trips especially to an affected country?
"The first question for the employer is how important is this meeting? Does it need to go ahead? The second is how can this meeting be held in a way that reduces risks?" Dr. Lewis says.
The company you're working for must find out if the meeting can be done through other means like a teleconference, webinar, or video conference. In the same manner, if a meeting is going to be held at your company's premises and you are expecting attendees from abroad, it is important to put sound hygiene practices in place.
The company also needs to make sure everyone knows where the washrooms are or that hand-sanitizer dispensers are available at the strategic locations. A health service staff can give a two-minute talk on how to keep everyone protected. This can also include measure on what attendees can do and whom to call if they show symptoms and to make sure there is an identified isolation room in the premises.
Are pregnant women at higher risk? Should they still report to the office?
"Pregnant women are not considered at the moment to be at higher risk than other people," assures Dr. Lewis. "Luckily, what we have learned so far is that it does not appear to be a great risk for infants who are born to pregnant women who are infected with the disease," she adds. What is in the interest of employers, she points out, is to protect the workplace.
Dr. Lewis emphasizes that part of managing risks at the workplace is also about managing the perception of risk and this task often rests on employers. "You are managing how people feel, how they react, and what they think so your best move is knowing how to handle that situation while everybody goes on with their business."