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COVID-19 Daily Briefing - Wednesday, 4/29

We answer all your practical questions about face masks in the workplace, and more...

Today’s Recap:

  • The patchwork of reopening plans and stay-at-home orders across states and counties makes keeping track, and complying, a challenge. Some states are reopening this week, while other areas extended their stay-at-home orders through June 1. 
  • Rhode Island is pushing aggressive testing - leading to a rise in confirmed cases, but also a key component in reopening safely. Nearly 5% of all RI residents have been tested, compared to about 1% in states like Texas and Georgia that are reopening.
  • For those of you who like to get into the weeds, STAT released a detailed COVID-19 drugs and vaccine tracker, with a list of current trials. If nothing else, it’s comforting to know there are so many people working on these treatments and vaccines!
  • CVS and other retail stores will soon offer self-swab COVID testing. 
  • The CDC updated their official symptoms list today. Our sources in the CDC are getting back to us ASAP about how these symptoms should be used for employee exclusion, and have confirmed that we should stick with the main 3 (fever, cough, shortness of breath) for daily employee screening. As soon as we hear back from the CDC on that, we’ll update our exclusion chart to reflect the changes. 

Best Questions of the Day: 

Many of today’s best questions surround mask use which is proving much more challenging than anyone might have anticipated...

What happens when an employee is unable to wear a mask - it’s causing anxiety, claustrophobia, asthma, overheating?

The CDC says that face coverings are recommended for anyone working at an essential business, with the exception of someone who has trouble breathing, or is otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance.

Specific state and local regulations may make face covering mandatory. Check your local guidance, but if it’s unclear (as is true in many cases), we like the guidance from the City of San Francisco, which we’ve included here:

  • If you have documentation showing a medical professional has told you not to wear a face covering, you do not have to wear one.
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing, or is not able to take off a face covering without help, should not wear one. If you have a chronic condition, you should get documentation from a medical professional.
  • If you will create a safety hazard at work (under established health and safety guidelines) by wearing a face covering, you do not have to wear one. 
  • If you have a physical disability that prevents you from wearing a face covering, you do not have to wear one.
  • If you are deaf and use facial and mouth movements as part of communication, you can remove your mask while signing.

Can a full face shield substitute for a mask?

In most cases, no. Face shields stop droplets from being transmitted, but they don’t filter air. They also don’t create a seal around the mouth and nose, so even large droplets can get by. That said, cloth face coverings don’t filter air to the degree that’s needed to filter all Coronavirus particles, either. Physical droplets are the primary source of person-to-person transmission, so there is some evidence that a plastic face shield might work. Still, the CDC’s recommendation, and those of most state and local regulations call for a face mask, specifically. We recommend that you stick with a face mask unless someone is medically exempt for the reasons listed above, in which case a face shield is a great second option if you can source one. 

After a  manager tested positive, we observed employees removing their masks throughout the day (usually at break times or between tasks).  How does that change their risk, and our compliance with the requirement to be masked?

We know that employees will remove masks as they become wet or hot, hard to breathe in, to drink or eat, etc. Employees should NOT be removing the mask when they are within 6 feet of each other - if they need a break to catch their breath or grab a drink of water, they should move 6 feet away from others to do so. They must replace their mask and then wash their hands before they return to work. ANY TIME an employee touches their mask, they have to wash their hands - period. 

Best Read of the Day: 

A positive antibody test doesn’t yet mean you’re immune to COVID-19.

What Covid-19 antibody tests say — and don’t say — about immunity

Best Entertainment of the Day:

A Pandemic Gives the Funny Pages a Jolt of Reality

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