Infectolab - face masks

Are Face Masks Necessary To Ensure A COVID-Safe Office Environment?

Many places have implemented mandatory mask rules to help slow or limit the spread of COVID-19. Wearing masks has been shown to reduce the rate at which the virus spreads by limiting air droplet transference in areas where people can’t maintain a sufficient enough distance between themselves and others.

Places such as grocery stores, restaurants, malls, and retail establishments have implemented the new mask rule to help keep public safety a number one priority during this global pandemic. As lockdowns and quarantines are lifted, many offices are following suit by reopening to normal business hours and status – but are masks necessary in offices as they are in other businesses?

Face coverings at work

There are so many questions to take into consideration when it comes to face mask requirements for offices. Employees may be asking a lot of different questions about face masks and the office. Inquiries that may plague the minds of many when it comes to the new rules regarding safety in the workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic include:

  • Is it possible to be forced to wear a mask if you don’t want to?
  • Will the employer be required to supply sufficient face masks?
  • Do I have to wear one at all times and in all areas of the office?

The answers to these will be different depending on the office and type of business, and whether or not other COVID-19 guidelines such as social distancing are possible within the confines of the business walls. In the instance of whether or not employers can force face masks upon their employees, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said that employees have more of a choice than they may think, depending on “specific circumstances present at the worksite.”

Many people are wearing cloth masks as protection against spreading the virus, but they do not fall under the category of personal protective equipment because they are there for the safety of others, not the person wearing them. Thus, this means they cannot be made absolutely mandatory and employers are not required to provide them.

Infectolab - N95 mask
Image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash: N95 masks are recommended to be worn by medical professionals, but are cloth masks just as good in the fight against COVID-19 transmission?

What does the science say about face mask efficacy?

Depending on the type of mask, the efficiency of protection will vary. Surgical masks and other respiratory protections are designed to keep the wearer safe. These masks are generally worn in hospitals or by medical professionals to avoid contracting infections, or on construction sites where fumes and debris could cause health issues. Cloth masks, however, don’t provide the same protection against contracting the virus, but rather from spreading the virus to others.

One specific study showed that even talking can release hundreds of droplets into the air. If a person is infected with COVID-19 and not wearing a mask, even a simple hello could help transmit the virus to another person. Another study used the real-world example of the spread of the virus and found that after many states put the requirement in place, the rates of spread and transmission slowed.

Evidence found in another study suggested there was a lessened death rate from the virus in countries where mask mandates were put in place. Suffice it to say, masks have been a significant aid in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the United States and around the world.

Employer guidance for complying with mask requirements in offices

Guidance for employers can be difficult to pin down because mandates and requirements differ from state to state. For example, Ohio requires employer-supplied masks to be worn in all businesses, whereas only some offices and businesses are mandated to wear face masks in Connecticut. State laws must be adhered to in the event that your business is reopening and you want your employees to wear face coverings to help limit the spread of the virus. In many states, though, if you want your employees to wear masks, you must provide them.

There are exceptions to the face covering rules that must be taken into account as well. For people with some pre-existing health conditions, wearing a face mask could worsen their symptoms. Health agencies haven’t been specific about which conditions will exempt certain people from wearing a mask, but some medical professionals believe that the mask should be worn by everyone, and that there is no such condition that could be strongly exacerbated by wearing a cloth mask.

Mask availability

Many retail outlets have begun to design their own unique style of face masks, profiting in a big way from increased demand. In fact, it’s been reported that the revenue made from the sale of face coverings around the world has topped over $7 billion. This means that there is no longer a risk for a shortage of face coverings, which was a big fear during the onset of the pandemic.

Infectolab - mask
Image by Bara Buri on Unsplash: The fashion-forward face mask industry is now worth billions of dollars in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other employer mask guidelines to follow

Masks have been shown to ease stress levels of employees where COVID-19 is concerned. However, mandatory mask requirements have also been shown to spark rage in others. Depending on your state and its face covering laws and requirements, the mandate may be different. Following other guidelines along with giving your employees face masks, such as social distancing, proper hand-washing techniques, and testing and tracing, will help curb the spread of the virus in your office.

InfectoLab’s PCR and serology testing capabilities have the ability to test employees accurately and with a general turnaround time of 48 hours. This will allow for proper and efficient tracing if someone in your office comes down with the virus.

It’s been proven that wearing a face covering can be a great aid in keeping your office COVID-free, but knowing the rights of yourself as a business owner, the rights of your employees, and the state laws in your area is a priority when deciding whether or not masks are necessary at your office.

Featured image by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

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