Coronavirus Best Practices and Protocols Needed During ‘New Normal’

As the United States begins to reopen after the coronavirus shutdown, the country must do so on different timelines and different protocols and best practices to ensure the protection of workers and citizens.

by Jim McKay / May 20, 2020
TNS/Jake May | MLive.com/The Flint J

As the United States begins to reopen after the coronavirus shutdown, the country must do so on different timelines and different protocols and best practices to ensure the protection of workers and citizens.

 

The shutdown of normalcy brought on by the coronavirus outbreak was difficult, more for some than others. But returning to what will be a new normal will be more difficult, said infectious disease specialists in a media briefing hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Tuesday.

Since the coronavirus was detected in the United States in January, there have been an estimated 1.5 million confirmed cases and about 90,000 deaths. Those numbers may be on the low side because of the challenges of testing, especially early on, according to Dr. Preeti Malani, Chief Health Officer at the University of Michigan, who spoke during the briefing.

Malani said different parts of the country and even different industries will see different challenges as the pandemic moves into a new phase and some will adjust better and more quickly than others. Some may not survive.

“As things have improved from a public health standpoint, everyone is thinking about reengaging as a nation,” she said. “And waiting for a timeline, depending on where you live as the timeline is going to vary a bit even within states.”

She said in her state of Michigan the northern part is ready open other parts are still waiting on the timeline. “Ramping down was pretty easy, although it didn’t feel like it at the time,” Malani said. “Reopening is going to be much more complicated.”

It’s going to have to be done with safeguards in place for workers, and the public and will take concerted efforts on the part of organizations to protect people as they return to the new normal. “We’re thinking about this at the University of Michigan as we prepare to open campus,” Malani said.

She said the campus wasn’t fully closed but students and employees were removed for remote learning and remote work. She said research labs on campus will begin opening up in the next few days. Many manufacturing businesses are also beginning to open up in the state and some of the same protocols—and some new ones—will need to be put into place.

 “Businesses and workplaces vary in terms of risk and you can think of them as high, medium and low risk, both in terms of the type of activity that occurs and also the number of customers that are served or the number of employees that wok in a particular space,” Malani said.

There are going to have to be best practices related to things like access control (how people enter establishments); health screenings; taking the temperature of people entering buildings or establishments; social distancing, where possible; contact tracing; cleaning and sanitation and the use of personal protective equipment.

“It’s extremely important to ensure workers that they are being kept safe,” Malani said. “A lot of this is unknown because the playbook doesn’t exist.”

She said it’s important for establishments and governments to be transparent and provide information in as much detail as possible.

Some industries won’t be able to reopen safely for the time being because of the nature of the business. Social distancing in some industries may not be possible so new protocols may have to be developed.

“In those cases, maybe you can do a better job of screening workers and customers and having better cleaning protocols, using personal protective equipment and decreasing density in some way that can make economic sense,” Malani said, “Like with expanded hours or different shifts.”

She said hand hygiene remains important as does the use of masks or face shields. “None of this is going to be perfect or easy and there is going to be some residual risk not matter what. We’re going to have cases of Covid-19, especially as businesses return to work but some basic public health practice can help prevent large outbreaks and help prevent and protect our most vulnerable populations.”

Dr. Leonard Mermel, medical director for the Department of Epidemiology and Infection Control at Rhode Island Hospital, reiterated the need for people to continue to observe practices like wearing masks or face guards and social distancing to keep the rate of infections from spiking.

“I spend most of my time thinking about how to reduce the risk of transmission of infections in health care settings,” Mermel said. “But the average individual, who is not in health care, may not realize some of the things they need to do to protect themselves.”

Mermel said he still has not touched a door handle since the outbreak started. He carries paper towels with him wherever he goes and uses those as protecting when touching surfaces. He also carries hand sanitizer and wears a mask.

“We all product bio-aerosols when we talk,” he said. “When we talk loudly we produce more and when we sneeze or cough and those bio-aerosols get trapped in your mask or face shield. It’s important when you start getting together with your friends to continue to stay six feet apart even if you’re each covered with a mask for face shield.”

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