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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Coronavirus Update 4-28-2020: Ohio’s reopening plan includes ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ผ๐—ฟ๐˜† masks for all employees

Yesterday, Governor DeWine announced his plan to “responsibly” reopen Ohio, which will happen in phases.
  • May 1: Healthcare procedures that don't require an overnight hospital stay, dentists, and veterinary offices
  • May 4: Manufacturers, distribution, construction, and general office environments
  • May 12: Consumer, retail and service providers
  • Restaurants, bars, salons, and daycares will remain closed until further notice.

Ohio’s coronavirus microsite has all of the requirements and recommended best practices for each business sector.

Generally, the state is requiring five protocols for all businesses as a condition to reopening:
  1. No mask, no work, no service, no exception. Require face coverings for employees and clients/customers at all times.
  2. Conduct daily health assessments by employers and employees (self-evaluation) to determine if “fit for duty.”
  3. Maintain good hygiene at all times – hand washing, sanitizing and social distancing.
  4. Clean and sanitize workplaces throughout workday and at the close of business or between shifts.
  5. Limit capacity to meet social distancing guidelines.
    • Establish maximum capacity at 50% of fire code.
    • And, use appointment setting where possible to limit congestion.

The state is also requiring that businesses take the following five steps whenever a COVID-19 infection is identified:
  • Immediately report employee or customer infections to the local health district.
  • Work with local health department to identify potentially exposed individuals to help facilitate appropriate communication/contact tracing.
  • Shutdown shop/floor for deep sanitation is possible.
  • Professionally clean and sanitize site/location.
  • Reopen in consultation with the local health department.

All in all, I think this presents a balanced approach to reopening our state, starting with expanding sectors with which we already have experience as essential businesses, even if I'm concerned that we are doing this a couple of weeks too early.

I’d like to focus on one specific part of Ohio’s plan with which we have no experience as a state—mandatory face coverings for everyone. This is a huge change from Ohio’s prior guidance, which only recommended face coverings when outside of the home, but did not require them.

Any reopening plan that does not include masks or other face coverings is doomed to fail. The science backs me up, as this article in The Atlantic recently explained:

Every infectious disease has a reproduction rate, called R. When it’s 1.0, that means the average infected person infects one other person. The 1918 pandemic flu had an R of 1.8—so one infected person infected, on average, almost two others. COVID-19’s rate, in the absence of measures such as social distancing and masks, is at least 2.4. A disease dies out if its R falls under 1.0. The lower the number, the faster it dies out. 
The effectiveness of mask-wearing depends on three things: the basic reproduction number, R0, of the virus in a community; masks’ efficacy at blocking transmission; and the percentage of people wearing masks. The blue area of the graph below indicates an R0 below 1.0, the magic number needed to make the disease die out. 
Models show that if 80 percent of people wear masks that are 60 percent effective, easily achievable with cloth, we can get to an effective R0 of less than one. That’s enough to halt the spread of the disease.

In other words, if we all wear makes all of the time we are away from our homes, we can reduce the spread of this virus to nil. This is why any reopening plan that does not include mandatory masks will not work in stopping the spread of this virus.

Because face coverings are mandatory, I think there's a great argument that you risk liability if you don’t require them and someone falls ill with coronavirus (assuming they can establish causation—they can link your business to the source of their specific exposure that caused the infection). Thus, this rule is not to be ignored.

Open questions: Have you sourced face coverings for your employees? Will you reimburse employees who purchase their own masks? Will you deny access to employees or visitors who are not covering their faces at all times? Businesses that intend to open under Ohio's plan only have a few days to sort all of this out and advise employees of your reopening plans. If you wait to figure all of this out and communicate your reopening plans to your employees, it will be too late.

* Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash