C.D.C. Suggests Big Changes to Offices: Temperature Checks and Desk Shields


Upon arriving at work, employees should get a temperature and symptom check.

Inside the office, desks should be six feet apart. If that isn’t possible, employers should consider erecting plastic shields around desks.

Seating should be barred in common areas.

And face coverings should be worn at all times.

These are among sweeping new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the safest way for American employers reopening their offices to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

If followed, the guidelines would lead to a far-reaching remaking of the corporate work experience. They even upend years of advice on commuting, urging people to drive to work by themselves, instead of taking mass transportation or car-pooling, to avoid potential exposure to the virus.

The recommendations run from technical advice on ventilation systems (more open windows are most desirable) to suggested abolition of communal perks like latte makers and snack bins.

“Replace high-touch communal items, such as coffee pots, water coolers, and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as prepackaged, single-serving items,” the guidelines say.

And some border on the impractical, if not near impossible: “Limit use and occupancy of elevators to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet.”

The C.D.C., the nation’s top public health agency, posted the guidelines on its website as states are beginning to lift their most stringent lockdown orders. Shops, restaurants, beaches and parks are reopening in phases. But white-collar office employees at all levels mostly continue to work from home, able to function effectively with laptops, video conferencing and Slack.

Some of the measures are in keeping with what some employers are already planning, but other employers may simply decide it’s easier to keep employees working from home.

“Companies, surprisingly, don’t want to go back to work,” said Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a nonprofit think tank that studies the region. “You will not see the drum beat and hue and cry and rush to get back to the office.”

Citing extreme examples like Twitter, which has said it may never return to corporate office space, Mr. Hancock said that he has heard similar things from both Silicon Valley companies and those outside the region. Many are planning to stay safe by thinning who is required to come to work, along with making plans consistent with the C.D.C. guidelines.

“Incessant disinfecting of surfaces, cleansing out your HVAC,” he said, referring to the ventilation system, “opening windows, ventilation, all of those things.”

Tracy Wymer, vice president of workplace for Knoll, Inc., a large office-furniture company, who has been in discussions with numerous companies about the safest way to reopen, said he agreed with much of what the C.D.C. was advising but he added that a big part of successful reopening would involve employee compliance.

“The biggest factor is on the work force and the personal responsibility they must take in making this reality work,” he said.

The C.D.C. addressed that part too, reiterating what has become a kind of national mantra: regular hand washing of at least 20 seconds; no fist bumps or handshakes; no face touching.

The C.D.C. recommended that the isolation for employees should begin before they get to work — on their commute. In a stark change from public policy guidelines in the recent past, the agency said individuals should drive to work — alone.

Employers should support this effort, the agency said: “Offer employees incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others, such as offering reimbursement for parking for commuting to work alone or single-occupancy rides.”

Smaller companies also have already been discussing how to reopen, some with the kinds of ideas the C.D.C. is recommending. But there are distinctive challenges in many offices. For instance, those that do not have windows that open to the outside, permitting ventilation; have little or no access to outdoor space; or are small and open, with floor plans that were de rigueur just six months ago and now are verboten.

Peter Kimmel, the publisher of FMLink, a publication serving the facilities management industry, said that the C.D.C. guidelines are “a good checklist of what needs to be done.”

But they also raise numerous questions, he said, including how social distancing will work. “This means many fewer workplaces per floor, reducing the density considerably. Where will the remaining workers be housed? Will the furniture work in the new layout?” he asked.

  • Updated June 1, 2020

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.


“While there are many solutions, these often require substantial thought and a budget that likely doesn’t exist,” he said.

Mobify, a Vancouver-based company with 40 employees that helps build digital storefronts for major retailers, moved back into its office last week and has already made a number of the changes recommended by the C.D.C. The building’s landlord now requires mask use in the elevator. Other changes the company made on its own.

“One person per table. We put arrows on the floor so people will go to the restroom one direction and come out the other,” said Igor Faletski, the company’s chief executive. “No more shared food. Sanitation stations with wipes.”

At the same time, he said, there may be a larger force at work: the impulses of the workers themselves.

“Since we opened up last week, only five employees have come in,” he said. “Because the office is quite big, there was room for people to sit in different corners.”



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