As Covid-19 cases continue to fall and state and local governments lift remaining pandemic restrictions, many offices are asking employees to return to in-person work, reports CNN.
What are factors people should consider if they need to return to in-person work?
There are three factors. First, what is their medical circumstance and the circumstances of others in their household? If they are vaccinated, boosted and generally healthy — as is everyone else who lives with them — then their risk of severe illness due to Covid-19 is very low.
Second, what’s the level of Covid-19 in their community? The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new metrics, along with an easy-to-understand color-coded chart with data that are entered in real time. If the level of Covid-19 is high, consider using additional protective measures and make sure to wear a mask. If the level is low, the risk of contracting the coronavirus is lower and you may decide to use fewer layers of protection.
Third, what are the conditions in your work environment — what safety precautions are already being taken? Some offices require proof of vaccination. Because those unvaccinated are three to five times more likely to be infected with Covid-19 compared with those who are vaccinated and boosted, I would feel better protected in an environment where you know that colleagues around you are vaccinated.
Other conditions include whether there is regular testing. Testing that’s done at least once a week can help catch early, asymptomatic Covid-19 cases and serve as an additional layer of protection. Distancing and ventilation add protection, too. There is greater risk if you are in close proximity to a lot of colleagues in a small space, versus if you are in a large room with good ventilation.
Should people mask at work, even if they aren’t required to?
Thinking through the three factors above will help in making this decision. If you or someone in your household is immunocompromised, you may decide to continue masking at work, especially if your area has high Covid-19 levels and you are in a work environment where you are in close proximity to others.
On the other hand, if you are generally healthy and vaccinated and boosted, and you live in an area with low or medium Covid-19 levels, it would be reasonable to be unmasked. The work conditions can also shape this decision. For example, if everyone around you is known to be vaccinated and you are well spread out, that could also make it safer to unmask.
You could also use the mask in some work settings and not others. Maybe you sit in an area that’s far away from others — you could unmask there, but then put on your mask when you are on the elevator or go to the restroom. Maybe you don’t quite feel comfortable unmasking yet because your area is medium risk according to the CDC. You could wait to do so once the level falls to low risk.
Is it safe to sit in conference rooms with others if they are all unmasked?
A high-quality N95 or equivalent mask protects you very well. Even if others are unmasked, the risk of your contracting Covid-19 is low if you wear the mask consistently.
This is not to say that everyone needs to be masked when in a conference room. Again, this depends on your medical situation, how much Covid-19 is in your area, and the circumstances of your workplace.
It may be very reasonable for many employees to go unmasked in conference rooms if others around them are vaccinated, for example, or if the risk of Covid-19 in their area is low. There will be many different considerations going forward, and everyone needs to make the best decision for themselves, understanding that very few situations will have zero risk.
Are there work circumstances that people should try to avoid?
This still depends on the individual and the circumstances involved. Someone who is healthy, vaccinated and boosted, and in a low-transmission area can probably take part in all work activities with very low risk of severe illness. On the other hand, another person who is medically vulnerable and in an area with higher Covid-19 levels may want to take additional precautions.
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