After seven months of teleworking due to the pandemic, many offices are reopening, and employees are returning to work. With COVID-19 cases spiking in many states nationwide, it is important to ensure your safety when returning to the workplace. In addition to following general, everyday safety measures, here are some considerations to examine before returning to an in-person work setting: 

Do you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 or been around someone who has?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you suspect you have the virus or have been exposed in any way, you should stay home and isolate

Are you or someone in your household at increased risk of severe illness?

If you or a household member are at increased risk, talk to your employer to see if extended telework options are available. If telework isn’t an option, examine ways to alter work responsibilities and reduce the risk of exposure. 

Are there options to reduce the number of people you interact with in person?

Many businesses have taken steps to reduce the risk of transmission (for example, the installation of barriers and closure of shared office areas, such as kitchens). Determine if there are additional steps you can take to reduce your risk of exposure. Try to avoid in-person meetings by conducting them via virtual conferencing tools. When interacting with people is unavoidable, be sure to follow all safety measures, like wearing a mask and washing your hands immediately after meeting with others in person. 

Once you have addressed these considerations for returning to the workplace, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19:

  • Stay home when needed. If you have — or even think you might have — symptoms of COVID-19 or believe you have been exposed but aren’t displaying any symptoms, stay home. This is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus. 
  • Monitor your health. Stay alert for symptoms. Protecting yourself and others from the spread of the virus requires vigilance. Be sure to follow CDC guidance if you develop symptoms. 
  • Wear a mask. Wearing a mask indoors — or in settings where staying six feet apart isn’t possible — will greatly reduce your risk of exposure. Wearing a mask doesn’t replace the need to follow social distancing guidelines, but it can add an extra layer of protection.
  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth if you haven’t washed your hands. 
  • Avoid sharing objects or equipment. If at all possible, try to avoid using another employee’s phone, desk, office or equipment. If you can’t avoid using a shared item (like a copier), wipe it down with disinfectant before use. 
  • Clean and disinfect frequently used objects or surfaces. Try to regularly clean and disinfect commonly used surfaces and equipment, like workstations, telephones, computers, printers, copiers, handrails or doorknobs. Refer to this list of Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants to ensure you are using one that is effective against COVID-19. 

If you have questions about whether it’s safe for you to return to work, ask your nurse practitioner or other health care provider and, together, you can work to reduce your risk.