Sneeze Guards, Masks and No Public Transit: Here’s What the CDC Recommends for Reopening Offices

Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic has been tough for many office workers, with hyperactive kids, glitchy video calls and tiny workspaces. But getting people back into the office —  without risking the spread of COVID-19 — is going to be difficult for employers.

The Centers for Disease Control laid out guidelines on Wednesday for how companies can safely reopen offices, and they envision a very different environment than what workers left behind.

Among their proposals, the CDC suggests that workers have their temperatures checked each morning, wear masks throughout the day and be seated six feet apart. They also recommend that plastic or glass sneeze guards go up at each cubicle, and that communal offerings in the kitchen — like coffee and snacks — be removed.

Some of the recommendations are difficult to enforce — the CDC advises that workers arrive in private cars instead of using public transit, which is nearly impossible for those in large cities like New York or San Francisco. And they suggest that people stay six feet apart in elevators, which may not be physically feasible.

They also suggest that companies improve their ventilation systems to use as much outdoor air as possible, instead of using recycled air that could contain infected respiratory particles.

While the guidance may be overwhelming, it’s necessary when “workers in office buildings may be at risk for exposure to the virus,” the CDC says, before adding that doing it safely is possible — with the guidelines. “… Office building employers, building owners and managers, and building operations specialists can take steps to create a safe and healthy workplace and protect workers and clients.”

But with the health risks, several large companies will allow employees to permanently work from home. Twitter, Facebook, Nationwide and Barclays have all announced plans to make that possible for eligible employees.

"If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen," said Twitter's vice president of people, Jennifer Christie, CNN reported. "If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it's safe to return."

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