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Guidance Issued For When Critical Employees Can Return To Work

Apr 9, 2020
Originally published on April 9, 2020 8:51 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Trump administration has issued new guidelines in a small first step towards reopening the country. These guidelines should make it easier for essential workers to stay on the job. NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce is here. Hi, Nell.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: We should be real careful here. This does not mean everyone should think about going back to work if they've been out. This applies, these guidelines, to specific workers.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's right. Yeah. So these are essential workers who are not health care workers. So we're talking, like, federal, state and local law enforcement, 911 call center employees, you know, janitorial staff, workers who are in food and agriculture, manufacturing that's critical, energy and government facilities - so actually, it all adds up to quite a lot of people, as you can imagine.

GREENE: It sounds like it. So how do these guidelines change things for these workers?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: So before, these essential workers, if they were in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus or who was suspected to be infected, the CDC was advising people to stay home for 14 days. So as you can imagine, you know, as the numbers of infected people go up, that has the potential to put real strain on certain critical jobs.

And so now with this new guidance, the CDC is saying that people in these jobs can still go to work, as long as they're not showing any symptoms and they do the following things - they've got to take their temperature to check for fever, they've got to wear a mask for two weeks. They've got to, you know, keep their distance from their colleagues, don't gather closely in lunchrooms or anything like that and then go home immediately if there's any sign of illness.

GREENE: And what about the employers here? Are they being told to do certain things to keep the workplace safe as these people come back?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yes. So they've been told to be very diligent about disinfecting and cleaning workspaces, to disinfect all areas like bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment, you know, do that routinely. They say they should take employees' temperature before they enter the workplace. And the guidelines also advise that employers work with facility maintenance staff to sort of increase the air exchanges in rooms to try to increase the ventilation in buildings.

GREENE: So as I said, this could be a first small step, but even as they announce these guidelines, I mean, the task force at the White House, especially Vice President Mike Pence, is still sounding very somber about everything that's happening.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, he did note that, so far, more than 14,000 Americans have already died and that there's going to be more tough days ahead. He said, you know, there are signs that social distancing is having some effect, and so we need to keep it up. But at the same time, they're closely monitoring cities dealing with outbreaks, and the vice president specifically mentioned that the Philadelphia area is emerging as a sort of new concern.

GREENE: All right. NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce. Thanks so much, Nell.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.