Category: COVID-19 Education

Return to the Office

With the increase in vaccination rates, the US is getting closer to reaching herd immunity. In Washington state, COVID-19 requirements are set to expire for most settings on or by June 30, 2021. Employers are eager to get their staff back into the workplace, but what factors should be considered before bringing employees back or increasing the number of staff allowed in a building?

First, communication with employees is key. Survey your employees to find out their feelings on returning to the office. National surveys have had mixed results lately; some have suggested up to half of employees are eager to return to in person work, others have suggested a third of employees will leave a company that requires a strict return to a five day in person work week, and still another has suggested only a quarter of employees feel the time is right to return to in person work. Based upon the results you get from your employee communication, consider what is necessary to make your workers more comfortable for their health and safety.

Consider if some jobs can remain fully remote, or if flexible working schedules are possible. Up to 15% of the world’s population have a disability; remote work can allow disabled workers the flexibility to thrive at work and still maintain their health. Regardless of whether you decide to allow remote or flexible work weeks, encourage sick workers to stay home or work from home, and work on creating a company culture that promotes wellness.

Once you have communicated with your employees and established what staff will return to in person work, consider ventilation, engineering, and administrative controls for the virus. Increase the flow of outdoor air or increase the efficiency of filters in your HVAC system to MERV 13 filters; aim for 4-6 air changes per hour in your facility (medical facilities have higher standards). To engineer a healthier office concept, move away from open workspaces, extend cubicles to at least 6 ft of height, and add other barriers as needed for your workspace.  Finally, use administrative controls, such as training your people to wear masks and social distance, limiting the number of people in the office at one time, and encouraging people to stay home when sick.

Encourage your workers to get vaccinated; lead by example, consider offering vaccine incentives, and allow workers the time to stay home after their shot should they have a reaction. In Washington, only vaccinated employees may work without a mask indoors, and in some regions such as King County masks are still highly recommended for indoor workplaces.

Build a company infection control plan and committee that will be ready to communicate changes and updates to employees. This will give you company resilience for future outbreaks, be they COVID-19 variants or pandemic influenza. Understand how different diseases are transmitted, this can help you figure out what preventions are necessary to prevent the spread: handwashing, masks, barriers, remote work, to list a few common methods.

In addition to COVID-19 risks, reopening dormant buildings can pose a risk from mold, Legionella, and copper/lead in the water system. Follow all CDC reopening guidelines for increasing occupancy or reopening a dormant building (links in the references). EHS-International, Inc. also produced a video summarizing these recommendations:

As you create your return to work plan, make certain you are following all WA state Labor and Industries guidelines, found at: This includes new guidelines for masking for vaccinated employees.

For industry-specific COVID-19 guidance from L&I, go to


Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy

In order to overcome COVID-19, we will need a large percentage of the population to get vaccinated (and likely get booster shots within the next year). The World Health Organization estimates at least 70% of the world population will need to be vaccinated for herd immunity.  Given some highly infectious variants Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and many other infectious disease experts feel herd immunity will require 80-85% of the world population to be vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy is a normal phenomenon, but it is our job to support people and help them overcome their fears of the vaccines. Everyone has different perceptions of personal risks, and fear of the unknown. It is important to acknowledge those fears while providing accurate risk comparison with getting COVID-19 infection; the risks of COVID-19 infection range from minor inconveniences such as time off work to more severe long term reactions or even death. The vaccines have been rigorously studied using the same processes the US uses for all vaccines, even though they are currently under emergency access.

Here are some tips summarized from the University of Michigan (for full article and podcast, please go to

  1. Provide emotional support. Say “I know there is uncertainty, but this disease is scary. I got the vaccine (or am planning to) and I want it for my family and want you to get it too.”
  2. Acknowledge uncertain risk. People react very strongly to any kind of new risk, or perceived risk from something they have no experience with. But it’s not the case that we go through life never facing risk: we face it every time we drive our car, or allow our kid to ride their bike down the street. The threat of COVID-19 is real and increasing, and while it is reasonable to wonder about the vaccine or seek more information from reliable sources before deciding to get vaccinated, getting vaccinated will reduce risk to yourself, your loved ones and society as a whole.
  3. Talk about known risks. Let people know what to expect when getting the vaccines, from common side effects like muscle soreness and fever to the rare risk of allergic reactions. Talk about what’s being done to monitor and respond to those reactions.
  4. Provide information for information-seekers. Share articles from reputable sources to combat misinformation about the vaccines and their safety and efficacy.
  5. Partner with communities. Approach patients who are skeptical with transparency and respect. For example, with Black communities, acknowledge the problems that exist and partner with those with long-standing relationships in the communities to provide information.
  6. Share your experience. Saying “go get the vaccine” is one thing; showing that you are willing to do it openly is another, and even more powerful.
  7. Tap into people’s desire to protect. Use those pre-existing motivations to protect friends and family, and frame getting vaccinated as something you and everyone can do concretely for the people you love.

For industry-specific COVID-19 guidance from L&I, go to

Use these tips the next time someone tells you they are not certain about getting the vaccine; we all need to do our part to help reach herd immunity. For Washington state Labor and Industries information on paid sick leave for after vaccines, go to: For more information about vaccines and the workplace, the Washington Department of Health has compiled the following FAQs:

How do mRNA vaccines work?

An mRNA vaccine uses messenger ribonucleic acid to teach our cells to make a harmless small protein that mimics the “spike protein” on the outer membrane of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease (the spike protein is what allows the virus to bind to our cells and cause infection).

Once our cells make these small spike protein dupes (mimicking the spike protein found on the outside of SARS-CoV-2), our immune system recognizes that they do not belong. We then experience an immune response, where our body begins making antibodies, similar to natural infection but without the risks of developing COVID-19. If you are exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, you will be protected. Even if you have a weak immune response to the vaccines, you will still be protected from severe illness.

It is important that everyone who can get vaccinated do so. The more SARS-CoV-2 spreads, the more opportunities it has to form variants, mutations of the original virus. Currently, the mRNA vaccines are very effective against variants, but if there are enough mutations impacting the spike proteins on the outside of the virus it is possible our immune system will no longer recognize the virus as it was trained.

Boosters may be required, depending on how long the immunity given by the vaccine lasts, and depending on how many variants form. Currently, no booster shots are recommended, but researchers are in development, and the US Surgeon General stated that Americans should expect to have another shot within a year. While a typical booster shot is the same vaccine as previously given (e.g., a tetanus booster shot is the same vaccine dose given every 10 years), COVID-19 vaccines are likely to be unique each year, similar to the flu shot.

Some things to remember:

  • The vaccines cannot give someone COVID-19—they do not contain any virus.
  • They cannot interact or change our DNA. The mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell (where DNA is stored), and the mRNA is broken down and removed after the cell codes for the dupe spike proteins. This means that once the cell has made the necessary proteins for an immune response, the mRNA from the vaccine is discarded.
  • COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are rigorously tested for safety; emergency use authorization does not mean they are not held to the same standards as all other vaccines in the United States.
  • mRNA vaccines are new for public use, but not to researchers. Researchers have been studying them for decades, as they can be developed quickly, are highly effective, and are relatively inexpensive to produce. They have huge promise for viruses such as HIV or even cancer vaccines.

Encourage your employees to get vaccinated. For further reading about COVID-19 go to the Washington State Labor and Industries page: For business resources related to sick leave and the COVID-19 vaccine, go to

For industry-specific COVID-19 guidance from L&I, go to