Workgroup: Here’s how to reopen offices safely

By Ken Coleman, Michigan Advance

The state’s Return-to-Office Workgroup has provided Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with recommendations on how employers can begin to plan for a safe, phased reopening of offices. The effort is designed to address effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, now headed into its 14th month.

The group, which is composed of business, labor and public health experts, was established on March 15. It has drafted recommendations centering on Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) policies and additional guidance and best practices to help employers plan for a return to in-person office work. 

MIOSHA this month extended its emergency rules, originally issued Oct. 14, 2020, aimed at protecting Michigan workers, businesses, customers and communities from the spread of COVID-19. The emergency rules have been extended until Oct. 14, 2021, but can be modified or withdrawn at any time in response to changes in COVID-19 spread.

“Workers and their safety are our top priority,” said Sean Egan, Michigan COVID-19 workplace safety director. “We have taken a proactive approach to listen and collect feedback from a wide array of stakeholders, as we try to address challenges and concerns of employers who are looking to align their reopen plans with health guidance and safety rules.”

During a Thursday news conference, Whitmer announced benchmarks for when her administration will lift mandates aimed at slowing the spread of the virus in Michigan. It comes at a time when the state leads the nation in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period. Whitmer tied lifting of restrictions to her “MI Vacc to Normal Challenge.” 

It has four steps, each happening two weeks after the state hits a certain percentage of residents over the age of 16 who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The first step will be allowing more people to return to office buildings, then raising some capacity restrictions, then lifting all capacity limits and finally the expiration of the DHHS gatherings and masks epidemic order.

As of Thursday, 6.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Michigan. Nearly half of the state’s population over the age of 16 has received at least one shot and more than 37% of that population has finished their doses.

Some of the recommendations include:

  • Establish a return policy that provides employees with caregiving obligations to continue remote work regardless of the cohort group returning, including caregiving of immuno-compromised persons.
  • Focus on task-based collaboration and specific needs for in-person work while allowing other tasks and teamwork to be completed remotely when feasible.
  • Consider utilizing hybrid work strategies to promote social distancing.
  • Provide daily health screenings and  stagger entry times to avoid congregation at screening checkpoints
  • Provide up-to-date information to employees on the vaccines.
  • Provide links to vaccination sites/sign-up information.
  • Consider partnering where possible with local public health to offer on-site vaccination.

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