How to take care of your health if you're still leaving home to work


Though millions of people are sheltering at home around the country, many others are still going outside to go to work. This includes essential workers like medical professionals, grocery store workers, pharmacists, and others doing crucial front-line jobs. It also includes those who have picked up side hustles, such as delivering important goods via services like Instacart.

Experts say that if you're working outside the home, you need to make sure you and and your employer are doing everything you both can to maintain healthy conditions and mitigate your risk of infection. 

"We need to have these kinds of work-related policies and practices that are really paying attention to issues" right now, says Glorian Sorensen, director of the Center for Work, Health, & Well-Being at the Harvard School of Public Health. 

Here are seven safety measures experts suggest you take if you're still leaving your home to work.

Check your work schedule

Social distancing regulations can be hard to meet when your job requires interacting with the public. If part of your job entails helping customers face-to-face, see if your employer can adjust your schedule to decrease those interactions.

"Some grocery stores are working on scheduling to minimize contact between employees and customers," says Sorensen. For example, employees "may [restock shelves] after the hours when customers are in the stores."

Additionally, some jobs may require workers to change their schedules and put in overtime to meet the increasingly high demand for their services. Even if your work schedule is erratic, don't overlook the importance of getting sleep, ideally eight hours. "Sleep really matters, in terms of [fighting] infection," says Sorensen.

Keep your distance

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for protection against the coronavirus include keeping a six-foot distance, at least, between yourself and others. It is "important to always think that the person next to you has the virus," says Elyse Isopo, a critical care nurse in the ICU at North Shore University Hospital.

Whether you're working in a store or a warehouse, or are in a car or truck with others throughout the day, consider how you can keep a safe distance from people at all times. That means both customers and co-workers.

In its Covid-19 tool kit for essential workers, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) urges essential workers to think about situations related to their workday and not just the workday itself. Consider transportation to and from work, for example, and see if your employer can "increase transport options so that workers are not packed into vans or buses," it says. 

Always think that the person next to you has the virus.
Elyse Isopo
Critical care nurse, ICU, North Shore University Hospital

Clean your work area

If you're working at a cash register, or even driving a vehicle, "clean a surface that you're in when you first start your day," says Isopo. The CDC offers guidelines for how to clean and disinfect various surfaces.

According to MassCOSH, some retailers are allowing employees to "sanitize their registers every 30 minutes," and drivers should clean steering wheels and any other areas they touch in a vehicle regularly, says Isopo. 

"Anything you touch, always think that someone who has the virus [touched it] before you," she adds. 

Take your breaks

Whether you're driving a delivery truck or ringing up customers at a convenience store, taking breaks throughout the day is crucial, and they "are especially important for [hand washing]," says Sorensen. Make sure to take advantage of whatever breaks you're offered.

To protect against Covid-19, the CDC recommends washing hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds at a time.

Additionally, this crisis presents a heightened demand for a lot of essential services, which may add pressure to complete day-to-day tasks for many workers. Taking breaks that allow workers to disconnect from the workday can help them "address some of the stress and fatigue" that comes with doing their jobs at such critical moment, says Sorensen. 

"People may feel a lot of pressure, but it shouldn't come at the expense of your own health," she says. 

How to make hand sanitizer during the coronavirus outbreak

Video by Stephen Parkhurst

Use protective equipment

Even if you're keeping the requisite distance from co-workers and customers, protective equipment can lower your risk of contracting the virus or passing it to others. See if your employer provides supplies to help you protect yourself, including hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, gloves, and goggles or eye shields if necessary, and masks. The CDC now recommends everyone leaving the house cover their face in some way to help stem the spread of the virus.  

Companies like CVS and Trader Joe's, for example, are providing their workers with equipment like masks and gloves. If your employer's not providing you with protective equipment, consider making your own mask or purchasing one from a website like Etsy. 

In addition, make sure to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes. 

Take sick leave if you need it

Check your company's sick leave policy to see what it offers in terms of paid leave, and make sure to use it when you need it. "If people are not paid when they're sick," says Sorensen, "they're more likely to come to work sick." That endangers both their own health and the health of the people around them.

Under the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act, part-time and full-time workers in many businesses with fewer than 500 employees will now be eligible for certain sick leave benefits, including sick pay and paid family leave.

If people are not paid when they're sick, they're more likely to come to work sick.
Glorian Sorensen
Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health

Stay informed with Covid-19 training

Companies like delivery.com, which offers food, groceries, and laundry deliver to its customers, are using tech tools like stopCOVID to educate their drivers about steps they can take to lower their risk of contracting the virus on the job. StopCOVID provides a series of Covid-19 drills sent to workers via text or WhatsApp.

Ask your employer what kind of Covid-19 training they offer, and be sure to stay up-to-date on the CDC's guidelines for prevention yourself.

Essential workers are certainly on the front lines during this crisis, says Jed Kleckner, CEO of delivery.com: "We have to do everything we can to educate them, inform them, and equip them."

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