CDC guidelines on reopening businesses after the pandemic

As US states begin to reopen places of employment, the CDC offered updated policies on how to safely return to work. Here's a closer look at the various guidelines to help businesses unlock their doors.

Once the lockdown is over, will we go back to our open-plan offices?
0:52

The coronavirus pandemic is not over, but shelter-in-place orders are. As of May 20, many states began lifting restrictions on businesses and public spaces, allowing employees to return to work, and allow the public to enter restaurants and offices at certain capacities.  

SEE: COVID-19: A guide and checklist for restarting your business (TechRepublic Premium)

Each state is treating its gradual reopening differently, but as businesses unlock their doors, they must consider a whole new way of operation. To help organizations reopen successfully and safely, the CDC released a bevy of helpful guides.

The CDC included a general interim guide for businesses and employers, an interim guide for employers with workers at high risk of severe illness, guide for small businesses and employees, and a cleaning and disinfecting guide.

General guide for businesses and employers 

The goal of this general guide is to help slow the spread of COVID-19 within large organizations. The beginning of the guide instructs employers to closely follow the White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again upon resuming business operations. 

The document lists and details the following precautions and advice for preventing and reducing transmission among employees:  

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
  • Consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks
  • Identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work 
  • Encourage employees to wear cloth face coverings in the workplace, if appropriate
  • Separate sick employees
  • Take action if an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19
  • Educate employees about steps they can take to protect themselves at work and home
  • Implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies
  • Assess your essential functions
  • Determine how you will operate if absenteeism spikes
  • Establish policies and practices for social distancing

The guide also provided the following considerations for maintaining a healthy work environment, along with detailed steps: 

As of May 6, the CDC also added a table outlining the engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE) that employers can use to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

Guide for employers with workers at high risk of severe illness

The CDC also provided an interim guide for employers with workers at high risk of severe illness. This guide is geared toward workers over the age of 65 and those with underlying medical conditions. It encourages these workers to self-identify and employers to take steps to protect these employees. 

The guide recommends the following steps for scaling up operations: 

  • Establish and maintain communication with local and state authorities to determine current mitigation levels in your community
  • Protect employees at higher risk for severe illness by supporting and encouraging options to telework
  • Consider offering workers at higher risk duties that minimize their contact with customers and other employees (e.g., restocking shelves rather than working as a cashier), if agreed to by the worker
  • Encourage any other entities sharing the same workspace also follow this guidance
  • Provide employees from higher transmission areas telework and other options as feasible to eliminate travel to workplaces in lower transmission areas and vice versa

Guide for small businesses 

Small businesses, in particular, suffered as a result of COVID-19. For those able to reopen, the CDC created a specific guide for them. 

Here are some of the most important steps the guide suggested small businesses to successfully reopen: 

  • Identify a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues and their impact at the workplace 
  • Examine policies for leave, telework, and employee compensation
  • Review your leave policies with all employees
  • Identify essential employees and business functions, and other critical inputs 
  • Prepare business continuity plans for significant absenteeism, supply chain disruptions, or changes in the way you need to conduct business
  • Establish an emergency communications plan
  • Share your response plans with employees and clearly communicate expectations

Cleaning and disinfecting guide 

A component in guides for all businesses involves keeping workspaces sanitized. The CDC provided a cleaning and disinfecting guide that includes proper cleaning materials and how to determine areas that need cleaning. 

Here are some of the guidelines for disinfecting, according to the document: 

  • Clean the surface or object with soap and water
  • Disinfect using an EPA-approved disinfectant
  • If an EPA-approved disinfectant is unavailable, you can use 1/3 cup of bleach added to 1 gallon of water, or 70% alcohol solutions to disinfect. Do not mix bleach or other cleaning and disinfection products together. Find additional information at CDC's website on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility

For more information on how to handle reopening a business during a pandemic, check out the CDC's FAQs for Business: Coronavirus Disease page.

Also see 

istockphoto-drazen-zigic.jpg

Image: istockphoto/Drazen Zigic