With COVID-19 pandemic still hovering over us, it is prudent to take preventive measures that minimize the spread of transmission of the disease. But sometimes even with the best of prevention tactics, there can be an outbreak of COVID-19 in your building or facility. This guideline offers to shed light on what to do after COVID-19 has been confirmed in your building. This entails notifying people who have been in close contact to the person who tested positive, reporting to Toronto Public Health or concerned Public Health authority of the outbreak, cleaning and disinfecting the premises, improving air quality and taking steps to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
How is COVID-19 transmitted?
COVID-19 is transmitted from one person to another most commonly via respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, talking, or laughing during close contact of say within 2 meters. COVID-19 can be spread by infected individuals who have mild symptoms or no symptoms, i.e. asymptomatic. COVID-19 can also be transmitted through surface contact which is touching something that has the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
Factors that increase risk of COVID-19 transmission include:
- Close contact
- Closed indoor spaces
- High traffic places
- Prolonged exposure
- Forceful exhalation
What to do once you get a report of someone with COVID-19 in the building?
Making informed decisions and notifying appropriate authority and contacts
When someone in your facility reports to you that they have tested COVID-19 positive, ensure that the individual’s identity remains protected. Have a system in place to handle the situation. For instance, dedicate a team or a HR member to interview the person by phone and ask them basic questions such as:
- When was the last time he or she was in the building?
- What was the first day of their symptoms?
- Were they diagnosed of COVID-19 through any test, if so what type?
- Find out names of people in your facility with whom they have been in close contact.
Ensure that the individual follows isolation guidelines to minimize the risk of transmission. Individuals should stay home even if the symptoms are mild or have only one symptom. They should only return to the workplace after isolation criteria have been met and have been in consultation with a healthcare provider. As per updated WHO guidelines, the isolation criteria is:
For symptomatic patients: 10 days after symptom onset, plus at least 3 additional days without symptoms, including without fever and without respiratory symptoms.
For asymptomatic cases: 10 days after positive test for COVID-19
When someone in your building has tested COVID-19, it is mandatory for you to notify people who have been in close contact with the individual that they were exposed to someone with COVID-19, while protecting the identity of the individual. You should have a quick method of notifying the contacts, for example through an email.
If you reside in Toronto, then Toronto Public Health also mandates you to notify them of two or more COVID-19 cases within a 14-day interval at your workplace premises.
- In addition, you should also have a designated person who can be contacted for any information or for implementing any measures by Toronto Public Health to minimize health risk of the community.
- Have access to accurate and updated contact information for all workers that can be given to Toronto Public Health within 24 hours of request for contact tracing requirements for COVID19.
- Notify the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development and other relevant government authorities in case of two or more COVID-19 cases within a 14-day interval in your building or facility.
- Cooperate with infection prevention and control personnel from Toronto Public Health, such as permitting entry into the building for assessment and preventive measures.
You may also have to consider closing down the building or facility. It will depend on multiple factors, such as how fast disinfection or cleaning can occur, the number of employees affected, and whether you deal with people who are at high risk of COVID-19 such as the senior population.
Cleaning and Disinfection
Employers or business owners should follow established processes for cleaning and disinfecting the building after someone in the facility has tested positive for COVID-19.
For instance, high-touch surfaces such as desks, phones, keypads, doorknobs, door handles, handrails, light switches, chairs, credit/debit machine, elevator buttons and so on should be thoroughly cleaned. Cleaning and disinfection should also be carried out in shared spaces within the building premises such as kitchen and washrooms.
Coronaviruses are said to be one of the easiest types of viruses that can be killed with an effective disinfectant. Usually cleaning with soap and water reduces germs on surfaces which plays a critical role in reducing the risk of spreading infection. When someone in your building has tested positive, it is imperative to thoroughly clean and disinfect the premises as well as high-touch surfaces.
Coronaviruses can be terminated effectively with an approved disinfectant solution. However, those solutions need to be used properly as stated on the label in order for the solution to be effective. For example, if a solution states that a wet contact time of 60 seconds is required the entire area needs to be evenly treated and left for 60 seconds prior to wiping. If not, the surfaces will not be properly disinfected. Surfaces such as computers, electronics, paperwork, carpets area generally left untreated unless disinfection services are completed by a certified infection control expert. In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, it is imperative that a complete decontamination of the environment to mitigate the risk of transmission.
Air Quality and COVID-19
Since COVID-19 has been revealed to be an air-borne virus, indoor air quality needs to be monitored and improved in order to reduce the risk of transmission. Closed spaces with a large number of occupants and poor ventilation are high risk factors for COVID-19 transmission. Moreover, the virus can linger through the HVAC system when it recirculates into the building. This is why it is important to have the HVAC system draw air from outside and have clean air filters.
In addition to having an efficient HVAC system checked and maintained by a professional, it is also important to disinfect the HVAC system once someone has been infected with COVID-19 in the building before reopening. A-TECH Engineering – a leading HVAC contractor – provides a unique HVAC system cleaning process that can kill germs and microbes including COVID-19 via trusted partners. In addition, A-TECH Engineering also has tie-ups with one of the top disinfection companies in Toronto currently being used in healthcare facilities including ambulances where the entire disinfection process can be done in as quickly as 15 minutes, whereas before it used to take 4-5 hours.
Workplace safety and minimizing risk of COVID-19
- Prevention is better than cure. To ensure a safe workplace environment during this pandemic, as an employer or business owner, make sure your building is equipped with easily accessible hand sanitizer and hand wash at multiple points.
- Premises and high touch areas are cleaned and disinfected frequently.
- There is scope of physical distance of at least 2 meters. Implement physical barriers like plexiglass where necessary.
- Ensure air quality monitoring or HVAC monitoring to ensure the system is running efficiently.
- Automate building systems where possible to minimize surface touching such as lights, doors and so on.
During this difficult time, it falls on all of us to adjust to the new normal and do everything we can to reduce the spread or transmission of COVID-19. As an employer or business owner, ensuring a safe building or facility can not only save lives but also establish goodwill among your staff and clients. Connect with an A-TECH Engineering team member to ensure the safety of your building and occupants today.