Sensible coronavirus planning for busy L.A. offices
February 23, 2020 11:45 PM   Subscribe

I run a number of small, busy offices in the L.A. area. that for REASONS are highly likely to be one of the first places that individuals who are carriers of the Coronavirus may contact others. My organization does not have any planning in place other than our existing planning (gloves when providing patient care, regular reminders to wash hands). Without being alarmist, what sensible things can/should I be doing now to prepare and protect my office, staff and customers?

What I had in mind was fairly simple: signs throughout employee and customer areas that remind folks that it is cough, cold and flu season and encouraging them to wear a mask if they're sneezing/coughing, 60%-95% alcohol-based hand sanitizer (ABHS), tissues, no touch receptacles for disposal, and a ready supply of N95 facemasks in customer facing areas as well as in employee areas.

Equally, I'd push the message with management that if they have folks who are unwell, to grant very liberal sick leave.

Anything I'm missing? I'm trying not to be alarmist, but because of the nature of my work and our location (L.A.) I feel that we should start taking action. It would be lovely if I had someone with initials after their name to consult on this at my workplace, but please assume that I am all we've got in terms of someone who will try to figure out what we do next.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Here in Japan I’ve seen an uptick in walk through shoe sanitizers as well as stand alone hand washing stations. Having supervisor “monitors” helps as well, someone to say, “oh, you may not realize but you just touched your mouth, do you mind washing your hands?” Some businesses also have a system in place where employees answer a few questions and if they answer yes to two, they have temperature measured on the spot. Over 100.5, straight to medical. I think they get a little sticker for their ID that changes daily.
posted by stormygrey at 12:23 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

In my office in Hong Kong, for perspective:

- we are closed to the public and have reduced hours
- colleagues are working from home to the maximum extent possible
- masks are not required when in the office but people can wear them if they so choose
- mandatory temperature checks at the door, self-administered and recorded; if you have a fever you cannot remain at work and must return home immediately
- bosses and managers needling people to only come in if absolutely necessary
- huge ramping up of digital/phone contact with customers
- project development and back-office work prioritised instead of sales; end-of-year reviews changed to reflect work goals being missed
- a huge amount of grace and patience and resolve
- a revolution in the way we think about accomplishments and achievements

I’d say for your situation:

- the best single thing you can do is reduce the need for people to come in - the best PPE is to just not be around others (also don’t assume you’ll be able to just get masks if people panic)
- ensure working hours are sane and respected for those who do come in
- be clear about expectations: working from home is obviously less efficient for many people (like me, because I’m a teacher!) and goals and targets will be missed
- communicate these changes with clients through every possible means and budget extra resources to deal with their enquiries and questions
- as far as possible make sure your colleagues know you have their health as your absolute first priority

All of us are, as you can imagine, low-key terrified; at the same time we launched a digital comms product with some challenging clients a year early because everyone has a ton of time to work on long-term projects.
posted by mdonley at 2:17 AM on February 24, 2020 [15 favorites]

a ready supply of N95 facemasks in customer facing areas

Don't leave the masks in public areas, they will quickly disappear. In the hospital where I work, the mask stations now have a sign telling people to ask for a mask at any service desk.

Especially if you're using N95s, those things are expensive!
posted by shiny blue object at 4:41 AM on February 24, 2020 [11 favorites]

mdonley's list is similar to workplace measures taken here in Singapore.
A lot of working from home, split-team arrangements*, mandatory temperature screenings to enter buildings/offices, logging entry/exit times, recording particulars (name, ID number, contact number, etc) of any visitors, etc. Thorough, frequent cleaning of offices and common areas.

These are the official guidelines for Singapore workplaces, from Singapore's Ministry of Manpower. There are additional guides linked on that page that are also useful - lots of information and details on how businesses and workplaces can adapt and organize like this guide on business continuity planning.
(This page from MoM also has links to templates for temperature tracking and travel declarations if you scroll down.)
...basically the COVID-19 section of the MoM website has a lot of information and guides about this stuff - lots to explore.

*this policy was actually key in mitigating a recent cluster here at a bank - exposure was limited because the office had instituted split-team work arrangements, so the office only had a fraction of employees present during the period of exposure than it otherwise would have.
posted by aielen at 5:34 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Contact Public Health offices in your state and the CDC. I'm feeling a bit alarmist, but the virus appears to be very transmissible. If your organization is identified as a key to efforts to manage a possible outbreak, they may provide you with supplies and training. These organizations have planned for pandemic virus and have lots of expertise.

Do get a supply of regular surgical/ medical masks, and ask visitors to wear them as a courtesy, to potentially reduce their transmission of any disease. Basic masks reduce droplets from coughs, sneezes and breathing. Probably thermometers, too. Alcohol gel is not as effective as soap and water, but is useful.
posted by theora55 at 7:12 AM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Anonymous, I thought of some more changes we've made in the office to make things easier during this crisis.

1) The director took control of communications.

At first the office took a piecemeal, manager-by-manager, week-by-week approach, communicating the week's plans via e-mail, text or just word of mouth on Mondays/Tuesdays and sticking to those plans through Fridays. This annoyed people; one of the features of our particular office is how central it is to many colleagues' sense of safety and security. After the change in comms strategy, instead of this unhelpful text message only some of us got from random middle managers in the first week:

Please work from home until Friday. More information about next week will be communicated on Thursday evening.

...we got this from the director in the second week:

Please plan to work from home until at least Friday, February XX. You may come into the office if absolutely necessary to collect XYZ between the hours of XX and YY. By XX pm on Thursday, February XW, I will communicate to you our opening hours and our plans for next week. This will be informed by conversations I am having with Risk Person ABC in Global HQ City DEF on Tuesday at XX pm and Government Health People GHI on Thursday at XX am.

2) Ramped-up IT support.

Everyone adapted more quickly to Office 365 because our IT team worked (paid) overtime and told everyone to contact them because they were being paid; people are obviously reticent to be the person who rings and asks how to connect a Bluetooth mouse, but being told it was fine made people sort their tech out way faster. Teams, Planner, Zoom, Sharepoint and even just good old Skype have been invaluable, but I never really used them before when I could just walk over to someone's desk.

3) Maximally-lenient leave.

The director made it very clear - like all-caps, bolded, underlined text in emails - that you do not have to ask for permission to stay home or leave early if you are ill for the time being; the normal leave-request procedure is suspended and you are merely to inform your line manager that you will be home ill and to negotiate what work is achievable in that time, with the maximum allowances to be made.

4) Delivering things to people if they can't/don't want to come in.

Because schools are off and students are having lessons online, some of our colleagues who are parents have found it harder to work at home on the family computers/devices since the kids are using them, or can't leave young kids at home alone. So we arranged for the delivery of work laptops and mice/power cables to people's homes or nearest ferry docks/MTR stations by colleagues who lived nearby and were going that way anyway. This saved us days of negotiation.

5) Not forcing people to be happy.

There is universal acknowledgement that this is the largest health crisis Hong Kong has faced since SARS in 2003. Because of this, there's a lot of blowing off of steam. People cry, grumble, and talk about queues, shortages, frustration, anxiety, tiredness, not being able to get the work done, feeling stressed, wanting to leave, wanting to stay, and just the utter overwhelmedness of an average day here and management does not shut these conversations down. (Happily, we are also DMing gossip on Instagram and WhatsApping each other memes and doing ridiculous 40-person conference calls to sing to people on their birthday.)

6) Praise.

It's been eye-opening for a lot of colleagues to notice the contributions of everyone else through the new-to-us medium of remote working. That quiet person in the corner is brilliant at Skill X no one knew they had until now, for example, and the chatty folks by the water cooler who people sometimes think are shirkers can, actually, write up a load of very boring documentation very well. We're working on capturing these stories and helping people record their work in a way that's more meaningful than just an email or a ticked 'done!' box.

7) Cleaning.

Our cleaners are incredible and have helped us all be very conscious of our own habits in our giant open office space. We have budgeted more financial resources, time and energy to working with them to make sure they stay safe and that we are making their lives as easy as possible.


Every single thing about the way we work has been turned utterly upside down in the last few weeks, but at the same time a lot of ossified procedures, relationships and ways of communicating have become unstuck. I'm not saying I'm enjoying it, but my office has done way more than I thought it would think to do in this crisis and I'm grateful. Good luck and be well!
posted by mdonley at 7:31 AM on February 24, 2020 [34 favorites]

Was talking to somebody in our Milan office today and they were told to work from home and connect with colleagues and clients remotely with immediate effect and until further notice. This applies even if the client is working from their normal premises and it means we’ll miss deadlines. They’ll provide further guidance as required. Most of our more senior employees can work remotely for quite a while without problems, the trainees will run out of work they can do effectively quite quickly.

This is in addition to the global travel ban to China, HK. And the requirement to self quarantine for two weeks and work from home if you were returning from a trip that started before the ban. And the email last week that requires us to contact colleagues and clients ahead of scheduled meetings to confirm if they have been on any such trips in the last two weeks and requests that we meet remotely if they have.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:51 AM on February 24, 2020

Two parts of my online life unexpectedly collide! Really it’s quite concerning that the CDC and other agencies aren’t getting ahead of this.

Everyone who I know in the service sector in China is currently working remotely - including e.g. secondary school teachers. It sounds as though your organisation treats patients, though, so this may not be an option for many staff. The document linked upthread from the government of Singapore seems sensible, and mentions cross-training, as does this link about practical advice that governments already should be giving but aren’t. Can you identify who in your organisation has critical roles, and do a degree of cross-training so that you have some redundancy in the event that they fall sick? This is like planning for “what if that one guy who knows how the server works gets hit by a bus tomorrow” except that here the risk is that it starts to rain buses and you could be short of multiple key personnel at the same time.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 8:51 AM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I just left my doctors office here in Sacramento. When I walked in there was a GIANT sign saying if you've been to China in a certain time frame to go to reception, get a mask, and you'll be seated away from the general population. I don't know if that's feasible for you but it seemed like a solid plan.
posted by lepus at 9:39 AM on February 24, 2020

It sounds like you are in a situation where remote services aren't going to be a possibility, so depending on exactly how frequently people come and go you should schedule at least hourly, half-hourly, or quarterly wipe-downs of all touchable surfaces. All doorknobs and other frequently-touched door areas, chair arms, drawer handles, every surface in bathrooms, handrails on nearby stairs, rails and buttons in elevators. The reception desk and windows and anything people might touch there that can't be removed. Remove any magazines and similar in waiting areas. Follow medical protocol on what disinfectant to use and how. Provide a checklist to be used on every wipe-down rotation.

If you have sign-in sheets or hand clipboards or tablets to patients to sign in or do paperwork...figure something out about that. At the very least switch to plastic clipboards that can be sanitized after every use.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:18 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I came in here to say the same thing that Lyn Never said. COVID-19 can live for a long time on surfaces, and frequent bleach-wiping of those surfaces could eliminate a vector. Also, it might make sense to buy some of those wall dispensers of hand sanitizer and put them in doors/halls/etc. (The only thing found to reduce SARS transmission among health care workers in Taiwan was the installation of more handwashing stations.)
posted by hungrytiger at 11:42 AM on February 24, 2020

If you're getting soap and hand sanitizer, and encouraging people to use them liberally, please - PLEASE - consider getting unscented products.

There are many people out there that are scent sensitive, like me, and using scented soap or hand sanitizer will give me an asthma flareup. I've resorted to carrying my own soap everywhere (Dr. Bronner's Liquid Unscented Baby Soap, undiluted, in a perfume roller), and that works well for me.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:44 AM on February 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

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