Scientists are settling on a road map that can help critical sectors of the economy safely conduct business, from meatpacking plants to financial services, despite the pandemic’s continued spread.
After nearly a year of study, the lessons include: Mask-wearing, worker pods and good air flow are much more important than surface cleaning, temperature checks and plexiglass barriers in places like offices and restaurants. And more public-health experts now advocate wide use of cheap, rapid tests to detect cases quickly, in part because many scientists now think more than 50% of infections are transmitted by people without symptoms.
The playbook comes after months of investigations on how the coronavirus spreads and affects the body. Scientists combined that with knowledge gained from years of experience managing occupational-health hazards in high-risk workplaces, such as factories and chemical plants, where tiny airborne pollutants can build up and cause harm. They say different types of workplaces—taking into account the types of interactions workers have—need slightly different protocols.
The safety measures have taken on new urgency in recent weeks as new infections, hospitalizations and deaths rise across the U.S. and Europe, and potentially more-transmissible variants of the virus spread around the globe. This phase of the pandemic is prompting a new wave of stay-at-home orders, closures and travel restrictions, important first steps to curbing contagion. Infection-prevention specialists say known strategies for stemming spread should continue to work against the new variants, but that increased adherence is even more important.
Vaccines are rolling out, but slowly, and access will be limited mostly to high-priority groups for some time.