As the number of individuals being tested and diagnosed with COVID-19 continues to rise, the likelihood that one of your employees will report a confirmed diagnosis increases. If an employee tests positive, they should stay home from work until they are cleared to return by their healthcare provider. Studies show that the coronavirus can be present on surfaces, though the risk of infection from surfaces is currently believed to be low. However, you do want to take a look at what areas and equipment your employee was in contact with so you can determine any cleaning and sanitation needs, as well as the level of risk that someone else had contact with those same surfaces.

Before even making your own judgement call on what do to, it’s important to be sure you’re being consistent with the expert recommendations for your area. Call your public health department and tell them the relevant details of what happened. Depending on your area, they may or may not have specific recommendations on taking further action in regard to your team, as well as cleaning and/or closing the office. If you need to close your office, tell your employees that a team member has tested positive for COVID-19 and that you’ll be closed until further notice for deep cleaning and sanitizing and encourage anyone with concerns to contact your human resources department.

Deep cleaning involves cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning refers to the removal of dirt and impurities—including germs—from surfaces. It doesn’t kill germs, but by removing them, it decreases their numbers and therefore any risk of spreading infection. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process doesn’t necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but it does kill germs remaining on a surface after cleaning—further reducing any risk of spreading infection.

Start by closing off areas used by the ill employee (e.g. offices, bathrooms and common areas) and, if possible, wait up to 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for exposure to respiratory droplets. When you’re ready to begin, clean visibly dirty surfaces with a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. When choosing a disinfectant, make sure it’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved against COVID-19 and read the label to confirm it meets your needs. If an EPA-approved product isn’t available, bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface and will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.

Wear disposable gloves to clean and disinfect and discard after use or use reusable gloves that are dedicated only for cleaning and disinfecting. Always wash hands after removing gloves. Additionally, open outside doors and windows and use fans or other engineering controls to increase air circulation in the area. For electronics such tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls and ATM machines, consider putting a wipeable cover on them which makes cleaning and disinfecting easier. Once the area has been appropriately disinfected, it can be opened for use. If more than a week has passed since the sick person visited or used the facility, additional cleaning and disinfection isn’t even necessary. Continue with routine cleaning and disinfection.

Make sure to educate your staff to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19 and provide instructions on what to do if they develop symptoms within two weeks after their last possible exposure to the virus. Screen employees for temperatures and symptoms when they arrive at work each day and perform regular self-monitoring as outlined by your occupational health program. Above all else, remain calm. Make it clear to your employees that their health and well-being is your top priority and that you’re taking these steps to protect them.

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