Your company may have decided it’s had enough of working from home, and wants everyone back in the office, even if it means staggering hours. And if you’ve been missing your colleagues, being back at work means getting a chance to spend more time with them. But before you all plan to meet up at the break room there’s something public health experts want you to know, and that’s the break room should be off limits when there’s a pandemic.
The Wall Street Journal says break rooms across the country have become the latest hotspots for COVID-19, simply because they are small, they are indoors, and co-workers often relax and take their masks off when they are eating or drinking.
Corporate break rooms aren’t the only places where COVID can survive and thrive. An outbreak at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where 900 staff members were infected with the coronavirus was tracked back to the break room, as was a 15-person outbreak at the Holyoke Medical Center in Massachusetts. In Florida, a workplace spread was also linked to a break room in Orlando.
BJC HealthCare chief clinical officer Clay Dunagan says: “When the staff are together in a lunch room or break room, there’s a tendency to feel like you’re in a safe spot. You’re with colleagues whom you believe are taking precautions, too. But just like the rest of the community, those people get sick when they’re outside the hospital.”
Break rooms create the perfect conditions for the coronavrus to thrive
A study published by the American Journal of Infection Control actually found that enclosed spaces like clinics (or in this case, break rooms) with limited or no fresh air ventilation, close quarter seating contributed to the spread of COVID-19. This meant that behaviors that included staying in a break room for more than 15 minutes, eating within 1 meter of another worker, and failing to maintain social distance were all considered heightened risk factors for becoming infected with the coronavirus.
If you’ve only just returned to work after a prolonged period of working from home, know that the CDC has pulled together a list of guidelines that have identified workplace hazards that can increase the risk of a COVID spread. Employers are being asked to use methods to keep employees separate in all areas of a building, from work areas to parking lots, and from meeting rooms to break rooms. Employers are also being asked to improve the office ventilation systems, and make use of efficient air filtration systems and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
If you really want to hang out and catch up with work buddies, you’re probably best off doing it while you’re masked up and outside. At least you also get some exercise in while you’re at it.
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