In May 2021, 34 percent of small businesses in the United States were still closed. Data from Yelp shows, however, that as of September 30, 83 percent of all the businesses that closed have reopened. In the beauty business, 90 percent have reopened. In the hotel and travel business, 86 percent have reopened. In the restaurant, food, and nightlife businesses, 83 percent have reopened.
It is likely that more community-based businesses are reopening because they are near their clientele. People do not want to go too far away from home while new variants of COVID-19 are still appearing. All businesses must, however, comply with the latest government guidelines on reopening.
Good ventilation and air filtration are now the top priorities for every worksite to minimize the presence of virus particles in the air. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports the guidelines of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
The building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system must be thoroughly inspected and cleaned by a professional air duct cleaning service before the site reopens and regularly thereafter. Professionals must adjust the HVAC system to increase the inflow and circulation of fresh air from the outside.
A smart demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) that lowers air supply depending on area occupancy must be turned off so that ventilation remains at the optimum even when the area is unoccupied. Disable auto controls for the HVAC fans so that they are always on even when heating or cooling functions are turned off.
Exhaust fans located near the ceiling will help pull out indoor air and will help increase inflow. These must also be placed in areas that employees frequent such as restrooms and cafeterias or pantries and must be kept on even when there are no people around. When weather conditions allow it, open the windows and doors. In the summer, use electric fans throughout the workplace not only to cool down the space but also to help the air circulation.
Ensure that the HVAC system has high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that can filtrate up to 0.1 microns. The COVID-19 virus is about 0.1 microns, but it travels in the air in larger droplets and particles expelled by humans. A HEPA filter can efficiently capture 99.97 percent of COVID-19 particles in the air. In addition, ASHRAE recommends a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of at least 13. MERV 15 and MERV 16 are even better. The company must also ensure that the HVAC system includes ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) that kills viruses and other microorganisms. Alternatively, a separate upper-air UVGI system can be mounted on ceilings. These must be professionally installed to ensure that people in the area are not exposed to harmful UV rays.
The White House announced on November 4 that companies that are federal government contractors are required to have all their employees fully vaccinated on or before January 4, 2022. Also, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is requiring all facilities working with Medicare and Medicaid to have all health care workers fully vaccinated by the same deadline. These federal mandates overrule any local or state laws that are not consistent with them.
On the same day, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the Department of Labor filed the COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) at the Office of the Federal Register. It mandates that all companies with at least 100 employees require all on-site workers to get full vaccination by January 4, 2022. This also overrules any contradictory state or local laws.
On November 12, however, a motion to stay the ETS was granted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The implementation and enforcement of the new rule is, therefore, suspended pending results of the legal process.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce clarifies that according to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is legal for any private company of any size to require all its employees to get full vaccination before coming back to work on-site. Employers also have the right to terminate employees who will not comply unless the reason for not getting vaccinated is a provable medical condition or strict religious beliefs.
Employers are encouraged to incentivize their employees to get vaccinated by offering paid leaves for the vaccination day and a recovery day not only for themselves but to accompany family members, as well. The government is providing tax credits to reimburse companies for these expenses.
The nation badly needs more companies to reopen for the economy to fully recover. Companies must also, however, keep their workplaces safe against COVID-19 to help the nation manage the still-ongoing pandemic.