Preparing Your Property for Employees, Tenants and Patrons During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic
As you begin to reopen or reestablish your business during the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to ensure your property is safe and functional for employees, tenants and patrons. Proper cleaning and disinfection procedures can help create a safe environment, provided you apply new considerations to established protocols. As you are developing overall COVID-19 response efforts, work to help reduce risk through PATH – Plan, Act, Train, Health. These core principles can help you to prepare your business to operate safely in today’s changing environment.
Review Pandemic (COVID-19) Protocols
It is important to prepare for potential future outbreaks of the virus. Also, tenants, employees or patrons may experience trepidation about being exposed to the virus while at your facility and may have questions you need to address. Be sure to create and communicate new policies and procedures related to the COVID-19 pandemic in a clear and timely manner.
Policies and procedures should identify the steps you are taking to address any potential spread of the virus. This should help ease the concerns of your tenants, employees and patrons and ensure their compliance with new guidelines.
Limiting Third-Parties and Building Capacity
Consider limiting visitors, subcontractors or vendors from coming to your site; however, if it is necessary for them to visit in person, be sure to inform them of any new requirements ahead of time. Also consider limiting building capacity in alignment with state and local public health guidance. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publication Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 may be helpful in supporting the review and development of your protocols.
Social and Physical Distance
Clarify expectations on how individuals should maintain protective distances from others while in the facility and how they should take steps to decrease virus transmission from potentially contaminated surfaces.
- Consider the implementation of physical barriers, where possible, to help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19.
- Space workstations so that employees are 6 feet or more apart, where possible, to help maintain social distancing.
- Where physical distancing is not possible, have staff wear a face covering that covers the nose and mouth.
- Reduce or eliminate shared workspaces and large gatherings of staff. This applies to expected “hot spots,” such as time clocks, water fountains, lunch and break rooms.
- Assign personal tools, computers, phones and work surfaces whenever possible.
Personal Protective Equipment
In addition to your established PPE program, include COVID-related items, such as gloves, face coverings and face shields, as appropriate for your operations. Face coverings need to cover the nose and mouth to help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
- Develop written policies that explain expectations for PPE use/nonuse, when respiratory protection, such as N95 face pieces will be required versus voluntary, and any deviations from or exceptions to the OSHA Respiratory Protect Standard.
- Due to a shortage of N95 filtering facepiece respirators and surgical masks, new guidance on the reuse of devices has been issued by OSHA.
Review and update current sick leave and work from home policies to provide information specific to your response to this and future pandemics. It will be important to establish ADA/HIPAA-compliant procedures for handling employees who have tested positive, employees displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and managing employee wellness checks, such as measuring temperatures and questionnaires if deemed necessary.
Develop communication systems to remind individuals of appropriate safe behaviors and provide regular updates on COVID reporting. Communications may include signage reminding employees of protocols, such as the proper use of PPE, symptom awareness and hygiene practices (i.e., washing hands and avoiding touching the face.) It is also important to implement a feedback mechanism for any pandemic-related concerns.
Cleaning and Disinfecting
If a building is closed for an extended period due to COVID-19, the CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting the facility before reopening. Update policies for cleaning, maintenance and operations and review them with building and maintenance staff and/or third-party contractors who may complete this type of work. Ensure building operations staff can recognize symptoms of COVID-19 and understand procedures that should be followed if they or a colleague develop symptoms.
Increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, which may include door pushes, handles, touchpads, elevator buttons, faucets, sinks and electronic devices, as well as common areas such as entryways, lobbies, hallways and restrooms. The CDC offers guidance for properly cleaning and disinfecting facilities. Be sure to use appropriate cleaning products for disinfection; the EPA offers a list of disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2. This list outlines appropriate contact times (the amount of time a surface should remain visibly wet) and the surface types on which approved disinfectants may be used. Also note that when implementing the use of new cleaning products, it is important to use them as instructed, with appropriate PPE, such as gloves. Ensure employees are properly educated on how to safely remove and dispose of PPE.
Consider providing the following materials for tenants, employees and patrons to help promote proper hygiene:
- Hand sanitizer stations in lobbies, entry points, elevators and other common areas.
- Disinfecting wipes in common spaces, meeting rooms, etc.
Review Building Systems
Prior to reopening a business or building after extended closure, building water systems and devices that use water should all be serviced. Stagnant water can create ideal conditions for certain bacterial growth, including Legionella. Take steps to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other water-related illnesses.
Consider the following actions related to HVAC system operations for buildings prior to reentry:
- Increase fresh air intake in consultation with your building engineer.
- Improve air filtration by using a filter with the highest-compatible rating.
- Operate systems prior to re-occupancy and continue their operation over longer hours
- Consider using portable room air cleaners with HEPA filters.
Before considering disinfection of HVAC systems, research and investigate the implications of using disinfectants in air handling systems. The EPA provides guidance on the use of disinfectants and sanitizers in HVAC. Consult your HVAC contractor or maintenance team to review feasible options for your building’s systems.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to review and update policies for cleaning and disinfecting your facility, equipment and vehicles.
Returning equipment to normal operation after an extended idle period, such as following the COVID-19 pandemic, can increase the risk of equipment failure, particularly during startup.