Containing the Coronavirus in Staff Housing
Halting the spread of a serious virus is one job responsibility most of us never anticipated. However, the fast-moving coronavirus that can develop into the deadly respiratory disease COVID-19 has made it a necessity for managers of staff housing. While this is a daunting task, at heart it's a safety initiative, and safety has long been a top priority in the attractions industry.
To understand the fundamentals of implementing infection control in close quarters, Funworld turned to notable experts in public health and building engineering. To start, empower sick staff to speak up. This is no time for any employee to "push through" feelings of sickness. If they aren't feeling well, they must say so, immediately.
"When people start to feel ill, it is important they don't expose their coworkers. They should stay in their room and alert management," emphasizes Dr. Mary Stephen, technical officer with the World Health Organization's Africa office.
If symptoms indicate the employee has contracted COVID-19, hospitalization should be the next action taken. Stephen points out that, generally, COVID-19 shouldn't be viewed as a condition that is managed at home.
However, if there are no other options, some basic recommendations follow.
Quarantine in separate quarters
Quarantine for those who have been exposed to the virus should be at least 14 days, Dr. Stephen says, with core measures put in place.
To begin with, they should not share bedding, towels, utensils, or toilets with others. "The ideal situation is that the quarantined employee has their own room and toilet, and avoids going into common areas. If they must share a toilet, they should be the last to do so and disinfect the area with a chlorine (bleach) and water solution," Dr. Stephen recommends.
Washing their hands with regularity is also important.
The quarantined area should be fully aerated and if possible, kept clean by the quarantined employee with the chlorine and water disinfectant. Their dishes and laundry should be washed separately from others in the warmest water possible.
All staff members should follow prudent infection control measures. This includes keeping proper distance from each other (the United States Centers for Disease Control recommends six feet); regular handwashing; cleaning tables, computers and other surfaces after use; avoiding unnecessary gatherings; and avoiding putting hands to the face.
Ventilation is key
Luke Leung, firm-wide MEP Director at the global architecture and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, notes that selected research indicates it is possible for the coronavirus to stay active in the air for three hours. Moreover, traces have been found in ductwork.
"This means it may be possible for COVID-19 to transmit in the air," says Leung, who is also on the building industry’s ASHRAE and Well Delos COVID-19 Task Forces.
Leung says the quarantined room should be isolated from the HVAC system and put in "negative pressure"—supplying air for cooling and heating and general ventilation, but preventing air from returning back into other areas outside the quarantined room.
One method is to use a small mechanical fan with a high grade HEPA filter to blow air out the window, drawing air from underneath and around the room's door.
"Other recommendations include use of UVC lamps above the occupied level, or catalytic ionization machines to eliminate the virus at the source," Leung further advises.
Dr. Stephen underscores that caregivers should wear a mask and gloves and maintain a safe distance from the quarantined person. Only one person should attend to the employee who has become ill, not different people taking turns. This will minimize the number of people at risk of exposure.
Care should be taken when removing the quarantined person's dishes. These should be kept away from other dishes. Obviously, the caretaker should practice vigorous and frequent handwashing, as well.
Let's not also forget to keep our humanity and compassion, Dr. Stephen concludes.
"What you don't want is people sitting with anxiety not being able to talk to anyone. The first way to allay fears is to provide the right information in a timely manner. Inform everyone of the preventive measures being taken and how to protect themselves, such as handwashing, covering mouths and noses with tissues when coughing or sneezing and immediately disposing; keeping two meters away from everyone," she explains.
And keep in mind the person who is in quarantine. Imagine experiencing such a situation far from family and home. "Share with other staffers how this person is doing, how the situation is evolving and encourage them to call or text their coworker in quarantine," she adds.
Professional counseling may be needed to keep anxiety levels from rising, via phone or video conferencing.
Again, many of these staff employees are far from home. Working collectively to keep each other safe can bring much needed comfort and camaraderie.