OKC VeloCity | Public health and workplace experts offer advice on operating safely during COVID-19

Public health and workplace experts offer advice on operating safely during COVID-19

By Kaylee McDaniel / Economy / July 30, 2020

On June 26, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber hosted a free Enlighten webinar, presented by MassMutual Oklahoma, to provide some practical and timely tips for businesses that are reopening amid the ongoing pandemic. Two speakers covered how companies can create the healthiest workplace possible, even during abnormal and stressful times. 

Michael Dickerson, work/life integration consultant, covered how to boost employee morale, maintain company culture and increase productivity while employees are working through stressful work and life situations. Phil Maytubby, COO of Oklahoma City-County Health Department (OCCHD), explained some best practices for business operations so that employers can do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Read on for a Q&A with each speaker with additional insight for employers. 

Questions for Michael Dickerson:

Q: What are some tips on making Zoom more effective?

  • Utilize the breakout function on zoom
  • Use the chat box to get questions answered
  • Ask questions to participants to stimulate conversation

Q: What tips do you have for building trust in order to have uncomfortable conversations around diversity, inclusion and belonging?

A: I would say the first thing that needs to happen around diversity and inclusion is for managers and leadership to listen to their employees wholeheartedly. Right now, this is a very sensitive topic and it’s important that people feel like they are being listened to by their colleagues.

Secondly, trust is built on positive consistent behavior over time. It’s important to find an executive or highly respected stakeholder to be a champion to encourage leaders and managers to have these hard conversations around diversity and inclusion.

Q: In terms of morale and culture with people working in the office: how do you handle when everyone has a different idea of how to respond, i.e wearing masks vs. people who don’t want to?

A: I believe this a simple policy issue that just needs to be addressed by leadership. Leadership will need to constantly communicate the importance of wearing a mask. Over-communication is the best way to get this embedded into the company culture. Also, leaders should model the example by wearing their mask consistently.

Q: It really resonated with myself and my coworker who are on this zoom when he talked about now not being the time to micromanage. Any advice for us in talking to our leadership if this is happening?

A: When speaking to your managers and leaders about the issue of micromanaging, you need to give them context and tell them what your situation is at the moment and what you are going through with trying to be productive at work, having good self-care and taking care of your family responsibilities. Micromanaging is a sign of distrust and lack of empathy of what people are dealing with working from home.

Q: What are some resources you would recommend for low cost or easily accessible methods of bettering your mental health?

A: Exercise is going to be the #1 method to increase positive mental health. Exercise gives overall physical and mental stability, and it also helps releases endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are good for changing a bad mood to a better mood, or hopefully a good mood.

If you want resources, you can call National and Local Hotline 211. You can also reach out to your local Mental Health provider in your area and Mental Health Association Oklahoma. They will get you the best low-cost resources.

Q: What are some mental health apps or online resources that we can use to boost our own mental health?

Questions for Phil Maytubby:

Q: How does an employer get set up to receive the positive testing notification?

A: No sign up is required, businesses are notified if a person that works there or was potentially exposed by the Health Department.

Q: What's the best policy to let staff know someone that has tested positive, without violating HIPPA?

A: You will not be divulging the name of a person. Because you are not doing so there is no HIPPA issue. You may want to discuss what your business is doing. Enhanced cleaning, scheduling, etc.

Q: If employees are 6 feet apart in a meeting, are masks still advised?

A: Yes

Q: Can you repeat information about the 5 minute disinfectant?

A: What I was speaking of was 250 NM ultraviolet light. Cannot be achieved while people are in the room. Can cause eye damage if used improperly. Go to our OCCHD.org website for a link to approved chemical disinfectants.

Q: If a business requires masks, is there a common stance on the "medical exemption?"

A: There is a list of exemptions in the medical questionnaire about who should not be wearing a mask/respirator. (See the respiratory protection medical questionnaire.)

Q: What are your thoughts about common areas? Coffee, Microwave, Refrigerator, etc.

A: Generally, common areas can be kept safe through processes and vigilance. You will probably want to set up a clean-as-used policy with particular emphasis on things that are touched frequently and by practicing distancing and occupancy limits to those areas. Remember, that handwashing is very important in decreasing exposure and spread of viruses.

Q: I have associates wearing masks outside in the heat. This is because our company is requiring all employees to wear masks when in view of our guests. My concern is for their health, they are breathing so hard and getting so hot. Can we safely engage with guests while outside and not wearing masks?

A: Too unpredictable and exposures have occurred in this scenario. You may want to consider rotating staff or giving breaks to those working outside. Also depends on the type of work and the extent of close contact.

Q: How should employee travel be handled?

A: Any air travel would be discouraged unless absolutely necessary. Use virtual when possible. COVID-19 is widespread. Depends highly on your workplace setting. If you can isolate in offices or work from home after returning. Really dependent on your operation and how you conduct business. See CDC guidelines for travel for detailed information.

Q: What if employees are attending one of the Serious 7? How is that handled?

A: Best thing you can do at this point is educate them on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), mask wearing. If people continue to go unprotected to events they will eventual be exposed.

Q: Should an individual quarantine after taking the test if negative?

A: Generally no, unless they tested too early before the exposure. It takes a few days to have a viral load that will be detected by the test. We recommend 5-7 days after known exposure for testing.

Q: You mentioned that asking temperature is the least effective measure for monitoring the virus. Is there a psychological reason for requiring temperature to be taken when people enter the office? What is the most effective measure for monitoring the virus?

A: We all took temperatures early in COVID-19 because it was one of the few items we had to work with. It is usually a combination of the symptoms that is a better indicator.

Q: What are the statistics on the rapid testing vs. the others that take 7-10 days? Which do you prefer?

A: Rapid testing has had “sensitivity issues”, giving false negatives (1 in 5) from June 22nd. Would need to look for latest data to see if those issues have improved. We prefer the standard nasal or mid nasal swab and traditional Rt-PCR test. The accuracy of these tests is in the high 90’s for accuracy.

Q: If an employee is engaging in violation of the request that they not participate in the high risk situations outlined and they are quarantined, do they have to take PTO or are they forgiven for those days?

A: That is an internal human resources question, unless a person was exposed on the job. Then workers comp may come into play.

Register for the next Enlighten event for more COVID-19 resources. 

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