Frequently Asked COVID-19 Questions for Employers
COVID-19 can be a confusing, stressful, and overwhelming situation for employers. The Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) is a resource for you to help make the right decisions for your staff, patrons, and business.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I prevent the spread of COVID-19 at my workplace?
In order to protect your employees and patrons, we recommend reducing the number of CLOSE CONTACTS as much as possible. COVID-19 is circulating in the community – it is likely that employees may become infected in situations outside of the workplace (at home, in social situations, or while shopping or doing other activities). Reducing close contacts at work can help protect other employees and decrease the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
These are some concrete steps you can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your business:
- Encourage social distancing. Employees should remain at least 6 feet apart from one another at all possible times.
- Encourage employees to wear a mask as much as possible. This applies even to people who are feeling WELL. Masks only work if they cover the MOUTH and NOSE. Cloth masks help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Even employees who are feeling WELL should wear masks. Someone can be infected with COVID-19 and have no symptoms and not know they are infected. If they are wearing a mask, it will reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19 to others. The spread of COVID-19 in your business will be less if people who are WELL wear masks as much as possible.
- Encourage individuals to take sick leave if they are feeling unwell. Address current HR policies and reassure employees that they will not be reprimanded for leaving if they feel sick. Having employees stay home if they are sick is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through a business.
- Information on employee rights, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave related to COVID-19, can be found here.
- Symptom Screening: BCHD does recommend screening employees prior to each shift. Screening can include asking about symptoms for COVID-19, and/or temperature checks before employees start each shift.
- Cleaning: COVID-19 can be spread on surfaces. Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, and shared electronic equipment routinely.
- Workers at High Risk: Encourage workers at high risk for severe illness to minimize contact with customers and other employees
- Social Distancing: Following social distancing practices in the workplace. More information can be found here.
- Hygiene: Promote hand hygiene, ensuring resources available wash hands, and cover sneezes and coughs.
Should I require employees to get tested prior to returning to work?
At this time, the Baltimore City Health Department does not recommend employers require employees to present a negative COVID-19 test result in order to work at their facility. There are several reasons for this:
- A negative test result indicates that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not detected in an individual at a specific point in time. It is possible in the time between the test was taken and the individual returns to work they were exposed to COVID-19
- COVID-19 testing capacity is expanding but is not yet available to test all employees for all businesses. BCHD recommends following CDC (See Categories for SARS-CoV-2 Testing) and Maryland Department of Health guidance on who should be prioritized for COVID-19 testing.
What if a staff member tested positive for COVID-19?
If a staff member develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and they are at work, they should leave work immediately. They should not continue to work while they have symptoms. Continuing to work while ill places the health of other employees and customers at risk.
If a staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they should not return to work until after isolation is recommended to end. Length of isolation is described on our Contact Tracing 101 website.
Should I call the Health Department?
Reporting to state or local public health authorities is generally not required for most non-healthcare related employers. Employers who are regulated by other government agencies should check with those agencies regarding requirements or guidance.
Although it is not required, it is helpful for employers to call the health department if they are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 at their workplace. The state health department notifies BCHD of all cases of COVID-19 among city residents.
What will the Health Department do?
The health department can help discuss which other employees should stay home and not return to work, and for what period of time, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through the workplace. The health department can also make recommendations about testing and infection control to decrease the spread of illness.
Generally speaking, only those employees who have CLOSE CONTACT with the person with COVID-19 are recommended to stay at home. Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet for more than 15minutes. This can mean people in the same conference room for a meeting, people who sit close together at work, or people who ate a meal together.
Even if they do not have symptoms, employees who meet the definition of being a CLOSE CONTACT should stay out of work for 14 days from the last time they were exposed to the individual with COVID-19. This is because someone can be infected with COVID-19 and spread it to others, even if they do not have symptoms.
These recommendations apply even if someone thinks they *may* have COVID-19 but were not able to be tested.
Which of my employees should get tested?
Employees who are CLOSE CONTACTS of people with COVID-19 should stay home for 14 days from when they were last exposed to the person who has COVID-19.
Close contacts who develop symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested.
It is still unclear IF or WHEN close contacts who do NOT have symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested. We will provide updates as guidance becomes available.
Testing too soon to when someone was exposed to COVID-19 might be only partially helpful. It can take up to 14 days to develop signs of illness of COVID-19. It is not yet known how soon a test will be positive WITHOUT symptoms being present after exposure to COVID-19.
If a close contact who is asymptomatic is tested BEFORE the 14 day period is up, and is negative, there is still a chance they develop COVID-19 in the 14 day period. It can take up to 14 days from the time of the last exposure to develop a positive test.
Where can employees get tested?