Below are notes from a webinar hosted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade re: work from home policies on Friday.
The meeting was led by Betsy Markey, Executive Director, OEDIT; Jill Ryan, Executive Director, CDPHE; and Kacey Wulff, Governor’s Advisor on COVID-19. The presenters in the meeting asked Colorado’s businesses to maximize teleworking and remote work as well as to assist in enforcing the statewide mask order. They often stressed that the reason for these measures was because of a recent uptick in the rate of new COVID-19 infections and that if there is success from these measures then more restrictive measures won’t be necessary.
Encouraging Work From Home Policies in Office Settings
They asked for support for teleworking and remote work to increase social distancing. Ms. Markey said that she would ask what the barriers are that businesses face to remote work.
Ms. Wulff asked for partnership to maintain or expand the amount of working from home. There has been an increase in transmission of COVID in the recent weeks. The state needs to be hitting 50-60% social distancing which the state isn’t right now. They want to have strategies like mask wearing and other strategies that aren’t more restrictive first before considering other strategies. There is an overall association of offices being open and increased outbreaks. They don’t have data broken down by industry.
Many offices don’t have windows that they can open. They also may not have updated HVAC systems to maximize ventilation. They really do see a big difference in transmission between indoor and outdoor exposure. Another thing they look at with exposure is how long people spend time around an infected person. Exposures longer than 15 minutes present a heightened risk. Right now about 1 in 600 people are contagious in Colorado is the best estimate. There are certainly office buildings with that many people. Workplace screening is critical. About 40% of new infections come from someone with no symptoms. They recognize that there are some jobs that have to be performed in the office. But if you can maximize the number of teleworking individuals that protects the individuals who have to go into the office.
Ms. Ryan said that the working from home is a great strategy. It does provide social distancing that provides the viral suppression and it is much better than the alternative—if there is an outbreak in a workplace setting that the guidance is for the workplace to close. Another option is to put the caps on how many people can be in one setting. The stay at home order costs the state $60 million per day. This is why we say that people should work from home if possible.
She shared a graph that shows an increase in the cases from around June 14. She shows another graph of hospitalizations. This number has also increased in recent weeks. Last week the reproductive number was around 1.7. This means that the virus is growing at an exponential growth. In March the reproductive number was much higher around 5. During the stay at home order it got below 1. Last week it was estimated that the state is at a 41% social distancing rate. There is a small window to turn this trend around. Changes now may be able to prevent larger actions later on that are more restrictive.
Ms. Wulff said that this logic is the reason behind the mask order. It doesn’t prevent anyone from entering a store, but it does have an impact on lowering transmission. She asked for help in gaining compliance with the statewide mask order. There are some exceptions allowed in the Order for those under age 10, those with a disability that prevents them from wearing a mask, and some special circumstances. Public indoor spaces mean when you are not in your home and you are indoors. For businesses, this means that businesses must post signs about the mask order, refuse services to those without a mask, and they can ask for help from local law enforcement. Businesses who don’t comply may risk getting their license suspended. If you are at your own desk in your own office and no one else is around, you don’t have to wear a mask, but if you are in a shared space even if the other people are far apart, then you do have to wear a mask.
Question and Answer
Mr. Gagliardi asked if a customer comes into the business without a mask, they say they have a health issue, how far can the business owner go in questioning the health reason. Ms. Ryan said that you can engage with the customer, if there is a way that they can’t come into the business safely if there is a way to accommodate the person: curbside pick up, delivery, etc. That is the first conversation to have. She doesn’t think that business should get into whether they should be wearing a mask or not. Businesses can refuse service to anyone not wearing a mask.
There was a question about guidance on mask wearing outside. Ms. Wulff said that the state order applies to indoor spaces, but about 40 localities have their own mask order which might be more restrictive. The more you can wear masks the more effective they are. There was a study about two hair stylists who were infected with COVID but didn’t know it yet. They saw 130 clients over the two days before they showed symptoms and none of their clients got sick. The mask wearing is very effective.