March 16, 2021 / Edward A. Sobek

Bringing Employees Back to Work: Ways to Mitigate Risk of Infection

Sponsored by Assured Bio. Any mention of specific products or services does not constitute endorsement by AIHA, The Synergist, or SynergistNOW.

As schools, businesses, and building owners make progress toward resuming normal levels of building occupation, it is important to mitigate the risk of infection for everyone involved in daily operations. Assured Bio, the first lab accredited by AIHA Laboratory Accreditation Programs LLC for SARS-CoV-2 air and surface analysis, has been at the forefront of the pandemic response by providing environmental testing for the virus to industrial hygienists, hospitals, and other commercial and government facilities. As a small business in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, we needed all our employees on site during normal business hours throughout the entirety of the pandemic in order to maintain daily operations. Here are the ways we accomplished this while mitigating the spread of the virus.

Protecting Employees

Since the start of the CDC mask mandate, Assured Bio employees have been compliant in wearing face coverings while working throughout the day. To handle interactions with outside clients and vendors, Assured Bio provided employees with hand sanitizer kits that they keep readily available throughout the entirety of their shift. Humidifiers are also used throughout the laboratory, as maintaining a relative humidity level of 40–60 percent in indoor spaces can potentially help slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

SARS-CoV-2 Environmental Testing

When people think of COVID-19 testing, usually they think of uncomfortable nasal swabs, spitting into a vial, or getting blood drawn. The Assured Bio team decided to use a different type of testing—the same air and surface testing capabilities that we use in commercial buildings and hospitals—in our own facility. Using state-of-the-art RNA analysis, we tracked down “touchpoints”—areas that are commonly and regularly touched by occupants. Examples of touch points are light switches, doorknobs, elevator buttons, and handrails. By sampling from these key areas, we tracked sources of contamination before it spread.

Scheduling and Obtaining Vaccine

Since our team provides testing for hospitals, pharmacies, long-term care facilities, and government facilities, we received the vaccine in the first phases of distribution. Ryne Dlouhy, Assured Bio’s vice president of Business Development, explained what we had to do to get our team vaccinated.

“We initially reached out to our local health department for the determination on our status,” Dlouhy said. “There is now a government website for the state of Tennessee that holds all vaccine registrations. On the day of the vaccines, we traveled to our local health department to receive the first dose. We were directed to a spot in the parking lot, and never had to leave the vehicle.”

At the testing site, our employees were asked to present driver’s licenses and work IDs to verify their identities. After receiving the shot, and a brief waiting period in case of adverse reactions, our employees were free to go. Among the expected side effects of the vaccine are mild to moderate pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, chills, and fever. Some of our employees experienced more of these symptoms than others. “Even so, it’s been a unanimous response from our team that the peace of mind that comes with the vaccine is well worth any experienced symptoms,” Dlouhy said.

For more information on the Assured Bio team’s experiences with the vaccine, check out our vaccine FAQ.

Editor's note: In the March 15, 2021 episode of "5 on the Frontline," Edward A. Sobek and Ryne Dlouhy discussed Assured Bio Labs' path to vaccinating their employees with AIHA Government Relations Director Mark Ames. View the video podcast on YouTube.

Sources

CDC: “Monitoring and Evaluation Action Guide: Wearing Masks as a COVID-19 Community Mitigation Strategy.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Op-ed: Humidity Can Aid in the Fight Against COVID-19.”

Edward A. Sobek

Edward A. Sobek, PhD, is laboratory director of Assured Bio Labs LLC in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. A microbiologist with 20 years of laboratory and field experience, he specializes in microbial and chemical issues affecting the built environment. His experience ranges from viral outbreaks in medical facilities and moldy manufactured plastics to formaldehyde off-gassing in building materials. He has diagnosed mold and bacteria issues in hundreds of homes, commercial properties, and complex manufacturing settings. An expert in identifying the root cause of contamination, he is also a research scientist with the University of Tennessee’s Center for Environmental Biotechnology.

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