How to Keep Employees Safe When You Reopen

By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, President, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians

In mid-May 2020, more than half of states have started to reopen their economies under restrictions, including allowing fewer customers, requiring workers and customers to wear masks, and enforcing social distancing.[1] In uncertain times, your practice team needs to create systems that will make employees and clients feel comfortable with the delivery of veterinary care. Let’s get your practice ready to safely reopen:

Consider assessing employees’ health at the start of each shift.

When employees arrive, a supervisor would use an infrared non-contact thermometer to take temperatures. CDC’s definition of a fever is 100.4 degrees.[2] Managers should maintain a temperature and self-assessment log. Each employee will answer a short list of self-assessment health questions, which could be incorporated into your electronic time clock software. Consult with your employment attorney and send employees with fevers home. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines give employers the right to take employee temperatures and advise having a plan on how the process will occur, confidentiality of information, handling employee refusals, and actions if fevers are detected.[3] Download EEOC guidelines at https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pandemic-preparedness-workplace-and-americans-disabilities-act.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment created an online symptom checker for health-care businesses (https://intake-app-dot-cdphe-erm.appspot.com/intake-form). Questions ask the presence of symptoms including fever, chills, cough, difficulty breathing/shortness of breath, sore throat, headache, body aches, vomiting, and diarrhea. The questionnaire asks whether the employee has been in contact with someone who had COVID-19 symptoms but was not tested or with someone who tested positive. 

Have employees immediately wash their hands upon arrival.

Staff shouldn’t clock in or put personal items in lockers until they’ve washed their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Set hygiene standards such as having employees wash their hands after providing care to every patient, using the restroom, sneezing, blowing the nose, cleaning, sweeping, mopping, smoking, eating, drinking, taking a break, and before or after starting a shift.

Encourage safe distancing.

Co-workers should stay at least six feet apart. If you have two receptionists at the front desk, shift workstations to be farther apart or move the second employee to a phone cubby or an office. Employees should wear cloth masks (PPE for procedures), even if you’re not allowing clients in the building. Wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing—employees must do both. 

Adapt your break room.

If you have a small space, schedule individual employee breaks and mealtimes so only one employee is in the break room at a time. Provide sanitizing spray to wipe down the counter, microwave, sink, table, and chair after each use. COVID-19 can live on cardboard for 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours. The virus can be spread from infected objects if you then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. Encourage employees to bring their own coffee mugs, dishes, and utensils from home, avoiding shared kitchen utensils, dishes, and supplies. 

For larger teams, reduce the number of chairs at tables, spacing them six feet apart and using colored tape on table surfaces to indicate separate seating. At Capital Area Veterinary Emergency Service in Concord, N.H., Hospital Director Joshua Jasper moved its break room to a larger conference room, marked table surfaces for distancing, and set up a team appreciation station with complimentary snacks and drinks (https://www.linkedin.com/posts/jjosh21_vetlife-veterinarymedicine-caves2020-activity-6655803991835967488-96ze).[4] 

Sanitize workspaces.

Doctors and managers should sanitize and clean personal workspaces at the beginning and end of each shift. Shared workspaces such as reception and nursing stations should be cleaned between client interactions and when another co-worker will use the same equipment or computer.

Go to single-table surgical suites.

Chapel advises that some two-table surgical suites can be converted to a single-table room, providing more space for medical teams working in a confined space.

Talk with veterinary colleagues and associations to share resources and tips on what’s working in practices. Safety protocols will help your team deliver the care that clients and patients are counting on.


[1] Mervosh S, Lee J, Gamil L, and Popovich, N. See Which States Are Reopening and Which Are Still Shut Down. New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/states-reopen-map-coronavirus.html. Accessed May 11, 2020.

[2] Definitions of Signs, Symptoms, and Conditions of Ill Travelers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/maritime/definitions-signs-symptoms-conditions-ill-travelers.html. Accessed May 4, 2020. 

[3] Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Available at: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pandemic-preparedness-workplace-and-americans-disabilities-act. Accessed May 5, 2020.

[4] Jasper J. Capital Area Veterinary Emergency Service. LinkedIn post. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/jjosh21_vetlife-veterinarymedicine-caves2020-activity-6655803991835967488-96ze. Accessed May 4, 2020. 

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