Office Guidance for “Low" Workplace Community Levels
When CDC community levels are “low" there are no restrictions on density or physical distancing in office spaces. Offices may operate at pre-pandemic capacity. However, there are still some helpful things that can be implemented to reduce the potential for spread of COVID-19. These include:
- Offices should provide adequate disinfectants and establish disinfection routines for high-touch surfaces. Twice-per-day wiping of light door handles and shared office equipment can help keep those surfaces free of pathogens.
- Breakrooms should have disinfectant on hand so staff can disinfect their dining location before and after eating.
- Make sure hand sanitizer is readily available.
- Offer hybrid meeting options to help keeps meetings smaller.
- Make it clear that personnel may wear a facial covering if they choose to. Ensure staff respects the choice of personnel that wish to wear a facial covering.
Office Guidance for “Medium" Workplace Community Levels
When CDC community levels are elevated to “Medium" office personnel should review the COVID-19 Safety Plan to see what changes need to be made. These changes include changes to meeting limitations and approvals. Offices should also follow the guidance list in the 'Office Guidance for “Low" Workplace Community Levels' above.
Office Guidance for “High" Workplace Community Levels
If the CDC workplace community level is elevated to “High" the NIH will implement additional safety measures that can be found throughout this plan. Please review the NIH COVID-19 Safety Plan thoroughly for comprehensive guidance on operations.
If you work in an open office environment density must be limited per guidance in the section
Physical Distancing. This may mean leaving at least one workspace open separating you from co-workers. Where possible, rearrangement of offices may help maintain effective separation of personnel. All staff are required to wear a face covering while in any shared workspace. Visitors such as maintenance staff, IT help desk personnel, and delivery workers will be required to furnish and wear a face covering at NIH locations. Personnel working at a reception/front desk should consider how visitors and co-workers interact with them. These personnel may have more frequent contact with delivery personnel, customers, visitors and the public, and spaces should be configured and marked to promote safe distancing.
ICO leadership will assess office environments and processes to identify measures that facilitate physical distancing and minimize the potential for personnel to have high-risk contact with one another. Example measures include:
- Limit occupancy based on current NIH guidance established in
- Eliminate or reduce processes that prevent effectively reducing high-risk contact. For example, if processes can be performed online with a brief in-person visit to verify information or identity, this will greatly reduce the duration of visitors in a space.
- Use engineering controls such as barriers that prevent close interactions. In some places transparent shielding between customers and service providers may be appropriate or required per OSHA regulations. For instance, in patient care and patient care support areas, if a customer must have in-person, face-to-face interaction with an employee, a Lexan or Plexiglass barrier will minimize droplet transmission. Please refer to section above for guidance on locations safe selection and uses.
- Use administrative controls such as floor markings to indicate appropriate directional flow of personnel or traffic. These markings help personnel and visitors better visualize spacing that will minimize droplet transmission.
- Use scheduling to control traffic flow within workspaces. Minimize overlapping appointments. Schedule appointments to minimize onsite density.
- Shared equipment like copiers, printers, coffee pots, etc., should be cleaned regularly to reduce the risk of contamination.
- If support personnel (e.g., ORF, CIT, OIIT, etc.) needs to visit your work location ensure physical distancing is met. Step out of your workspace if necessary while they do their work. Limit in-person contact as much as possible, and face coverings are recommended at all times if in-person contact is needed. Most IT functions can be done using a feature where the IT specialist can remotely install and work on your computer from their office or home location. These features should be used to the fullest extent possible to avoid in person work.
The ORS Medical Arts Branch has created visual graphics to assist with these recommendations. Please visit their
website to order posters, flyers, stickers, etc., for your location. The site includes free downloads, which can be printed from any printer, as well as instructions for ordering larger specialty signage, posters, and templates.
Requirements and Considerations for the Use of Barriers
Guidance for Plexiglass Barriers at all CDC Community Levels
Plexiglass barriers are recommended by OSHA specifically for work situations where staff have the potential to come in contact with people known, or suspected, to be infected with COVID, or where there is high turnover and infection status of personnel is unknown.
Cleanable or disposable solid physical barriers are required at each fixed work location
outside of direct patient care areas (e.g., entryway/lobby, check-in desk, triage, hospital pharmacy windows, bill payment) where each employee is not separated from all other people by at least 6 feet of distance.
The CDC, OSHA and NIH do NOT recommend barriers as a replacement for physical distancing or personal protective equipment use (face coverings/face shields). Barriers should only be used in combination with physical distancing, face coverings and other administrative controls that reduce potential for exposure. DOHS and the NIH Fire Marshal are available to consult on the use of barriers to ensure they are utilized appropriately. Consultation should be performed before ordering or installing any barriers. Installers must ensure they are not obstructing fire safety features (e.g., sprinkler heads, fire alarm devices, exit signs, and emergency lights). It is important to ensure the NIH Fire Marshal approval for any barrier within 18 inches from the ceiling. Opaque barriers are not recommended.
When evaluating barriers remember their limitations. They do not allow for increased population in laboratories and administrative spaces. Additionally, they may have negative impact on airflow within a space. This is important to understand when in a laboratory where Biological Safety Cabinets (BSCs), Chemical Fume Hoods (CFHs), and other local exhaust ventilation are important for controlling biological and chemical hazards. Barriers may also provide a false sense of security, leading people to believe it is safe to remain near others for extended times.
Barriers are appropriate in some circumstances where they may provide added benefit. For example, barriers may add droplet protection in locations with frequent, short duration contact with personnel from outside your office or laboratory. When paired with density controls and proper face covering, reception areas may benefit from properly placed barriers.
If you decide to use barriers, install them in a manner that reinforces physical distancing requirements:
- Design the barrier dimensions to exceed the breathing zone of partition users.
- Incorporate slots if items need to be passed between employees to minimize employees stepping around the barrier to conduct business.
- Always install with safety in mind, taking care not to hinder the user's escape in an emergency, blocking any emergency feature and ensure compliance with all fire code elements.
- Partitions should be secured to a surface to avoid falling/tipping.
For Maryland and Montana NIH facilities, please contact your assigned IC Safety and Health Specialist at
https://go.usa.gov/x7YxK or call 301-496-2960. For NIEHS facilities in North Carolina, please contact the Health and Safety Branch at 984-287-3400.
Guidance and use of Portable HEPA Filtration
Guidance for Portable HEPA Filtration at all CDC Community Levels
In some situations, a portable HEPA filtration unit may further reduce the concentration of airborne particles, especially in higher-risk settings such as healthcare areas that treat patients with known or suspected to COVID-19. The Clinical Center is taking the lead in identifying these healthcare settings in Building 10. Beyond these limited settings, it is important to recognize the transmission of aerosols in a room depends upon many factors such as size of the area, air currents, number of occupants, and movement of employees throughout the building. These variables are better understood through an activity hazard assessment. Such an assessment should be completed by the ICO prior to obtaining a portable HEPA filtration unit.
A portable HEPA filtration unit must be strategically placed to provide meaningful benefit to the user. Additionally, the unit should be designed for commercial use as models marketed for residential settings may not be appropriate. It is recommended that ICOs contact ORF to determine if further improvements can be made to the building’s ventilation before purchasing a portable HEPA filtration unit.
Questions of portable HEPA filters are often accompanied by use of ionization technologies – especially for use to disinfect bioaerosols. Some manufacturers market negative ion air purifiers, which may or may not include a HEPA filter. Ionizers typically produce very small amounts of ozone as an unwanted byproduct of the ionization process, which is adverse for one’s health. Air purifiers or filtration device that generate ozone are not permitted in NIH owned or leased facilities, as the device may create a hazardous environment. NIH also does not recommend the use of germicidal ultraviolet (UV) light for general or HVAC disinfection purposes in office workspaces given the potential for exposure to hazardous light.