COVID safety: unmasked office edition
August 13, 2021 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I have to go into my office one day next week. This is non-negotiable. How do I keep myself as safe as possible for the day, beyond wearing my KN-95 mask? Snowflake details inside.

New hire, need to pick up my stuff and meet staff. I am vaccinated.
- It is an office share, WeWork-y situation, so I have no way to know who is vaccinated against COVID or what they are doing personally. I do know almost no one is masking.
- 33% of new COVID cases are among the vaccinated in Massachusetts. I also know several vaccinated (but unmasked) people who have had breakthrough infections, so I know there is a risk.
- Based on the South Korean call center and other case studies, it seems like my best bet would be to stay near the door (more airflow) than be in a small office (potential that incoming air is recirculated from other areas). Have their been any recent studies that contradict this?
- Would bringing in a small fan to increase airflow be advisable? (Again, any studies in this area?)
- I don't plan to remove my KN-95 mask but I don't know if that will be sufficient. Should I think about setting up home quarantine for a few days to keep the other members of my household safe? (Again, any studies or stories on masked + vaxxed people with breakthrough infections would be helpful here.)
- Any other advice?
posted by rednikki to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Two masks, a mini fan for your desk to blow air away from you, and whatever glasses you can wear to protect yourself from eye transmission.
posted by todolos at 10:28 AM on August 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

In our local coworking space (where my company keeps an office), most of the offices have windows, and the climate control doesn't circulate to other rooms ("mini-splits" for heat & AC). Are you sure that the small office actually has central heat/air and doesn't have openable windows?

(We're back to work from home, the other two people who share that office with me had scares, tested negative, but we decided to split up again for a few weeks, and shortly after that someone else who uses the coworking space tested positive with a breakthrough case, so...)
posted by straw at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2021

A face shield may be more comfortable than glasses, and also conveys a certain "don't with me, this is serious" vibe.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:35 AM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you don't plan to be there the full eight hours, go there as early as possible so that the air hasn't filled up as much with a fresh batch of germs yet.

If you can pick which day of the week, pick a Monday.

If your office has any sort of outdoor space, work there instead.
posted by aniola at 10:39 AM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am an epidemiologist working on COVID. I am speaking in my personal capacity and my views are my own.

tl;dr: wear a KN95 and physically distance when you can; everything else is mostly theatre.

I'm seeing you're just going in for one single day, not routinely. My own concern would be minimal. My professional concern would be minimal. By contrast, I am in the office five days a week and I am at times unable to physically distance. (Neither by choice.) I wear a cloth mask at work only when unable to distance. If I were more concerned about risk, I would do my plane procedures - (K)N95 with cloth mask, never removing even for a drink, and physically distancing as much as possible. I don't know if that's reasonable for you.

Glasses for "eye transmission" and face shields are not effective transmission prevention measures unless you are a healthcare professional conducting aerosol-generating procedures. You would know if you are one of those HCPs. A face shield is not necessary if you are masked.

I am not a ventilation expert so cannot comment extensively. My suspicion is that any personal devices that simply recirculate air in the room will be of minimal benefit.

Unless you have people at a very high risk in your family -- like, recent organ donation high-risk -- I would not consider quarantining an asymptomatic, unexposed individual an appropriate response. If you do want to quarantine, you will be best served by a test (at-home is easy) 3-5 days after you are done, but if you actually want to quarantine, you should do 10 days. A shorter quarantine is ineffectual. I do not think any quarantine is needed.
posted by quadrilaterals at 11:10 AM on August 13, 2021 [88 favorites]

Your risk for this one activity is still really low, even with Delta.

I know this feels super-risky to you, with the number of breakthrough infections so high but you have to remember that many (most?) vaccinated people are doing *way riskier* things than going into an office, masked, for one (partial?) day of work, and still, only something like 0.2% of vaccinated people are getting breakthrough infections. Maybe try to look at it against the background of what other people are doing *every day* - restaurant workers, healthcare workers, transit workers, etc., to say nothing of the people who are going out to restaurants and clubs and hosting birthday parties.

Basically I agree 100% with what quadrilaterals says, and I just want to give you a little perspective on your *personal risk* from going in to work this one day. If this is the riskiest activity you're taking part in, you're already way ahead of the game.
posted by mskyle at 11:31 AM on August 13, 2021 [8 favorites]

Don't forget hand sanitizer and/or hand washing. Also disinfecting wipes (you can get small packs that fit easily in a large purse or a bag). Both these things are still part of the recommendations by the CDC to help prevent transmission.
posted by wwax at 12:22 PM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Find an outdoor spot to drink coffee or eat lunch. No eating at your desk.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:10 PM on August 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

a mini fan for your desk to blow air away from you

If air is being blown away from you, then other air immediately blows in to replace it. If the mini fan is actually able to blow air from an open window onto you (which I doubt for more than one reason), then that could be helpful. Otherwise, the benefit of the fan seems pretty ambiguous to me. It helps the air in the office to mix--but is that good?
posted by polecat at 2:22 PM on August 13, 2021

I'd just like to point out that this stat: "33% of new COVID cases are among the vaccinated in Massachusetts" is not as scary as it may seem. Massachusetts is one of the most vaccinated states in the country. 65% of the entire population (not just people over 18) are fully vaccinated. As a population approaches 100% vaccinated, it follows that 100% of infections would be among the vaccinated. If you are fully vaccinated and not immunosuppressed, you are still protected by the vaccine from severe illness, hospitalization, or death.
posted by airplant at 3:03 PM on August 13, 2021 [8 favorites]

My work has said to not bring or turn on a fan in case it's blowing infected air around.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:41 PM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Add a face shield or other eye protection

Don't touch your face
posted by Jacqueline at 12:31 AM on August 14, 2021

Best answer: FWIW, I have spent the past year teaching in a KN95 (head-wrap, not earloop) mask. No vaccines were available, and while I was directly exposed to COVID, I was not infected. I have a small UV HEPA air filter for my office, but I have no idea how much good it did.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:49 AM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

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