Environmental Health and Safety collaborates to help prevent spread of COVID-19

A team of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) staff members strives to prevent coronavirus transmission within the campus community while keeping campus operating. EHS works in close partnership with the  Occupational Health Program (OHP) regarding employees and University Health Services (UHS) regarding students.

EHS Associate Director for Environmental Programs Nena Anderson explained that OHP notifies her team when a member of the campus community tests positive for COVID-19, providing key information that launches EHS’s process to assess if any action needs to be taken, such as whether to deep clean for disinfection or close spaces. OHP follows privacy guidelines in its reporting to EHS that allow the university to keep the workplace and co-workers safe while still protecting individual privacy as much as possible. (Download the poster “The Process for Reporting COVID-19" (PDF) for a summary of the process that occurs when an employee has symptoms of COVID-19 or has been tested for COVID-19, regardless of test results.)

Information provided to EHS by OHP includes the last date the individual was on campus, which helps guide EHS’s decision-making about possible closure or deep cleaning of spaces the person entered. All employees, even those working remotely, should notify OHP if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or are being tested for the virus.

“For example, the person may not have been on campus since March,” Anderson said. “But if it’s been less than seven days since they were on campus, we are going to take a conservative approach to help ensure the well-being of the campus community.”

For new COVID-19 employee cases, OHP contacts anyone who was in close contact with an employee who might have COVID-19, a process which is called contact tracing and provides that information to EHS, again protecting individual privacy as much as possible. (A close contact is anyone who was closer than six feet to the employee for longer than 15 minutes.) OHP also provides the name of the person’s supervisor so that EHS can review the employee’s job duties, where the individual worked and took breaks, and whether and for how long the employee wore a protective face covering in those spaces. (Read more about the role of OHP in preventing the spread of COVID-19.)

Once EHS gathers as much information as possible and analyzes the situation, the team decides whether to move forward with space closures or deep cleaning. Anderson said that closures allow natural clearance of the virus without additional measures.

As an example, she explained that if the space is a personal office of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and its occupant will be out for several days, EHS is likely to close the office but not deep clean it. Depending on the information received from OHP and the supervisor of an employee who tested positive, EHS may approach public or common spaces differently, opting for deep cleaning rather than closure.

Anderson said that EHS also collaborates with building managers in its process during assessment, decision-making about closing or deep cleaning, and carrying out the chosen plan of action, noting the importance of keeping the campus—and affected buildings--operating as well as safe.

“We let the building managers know of a positive case in their building and the locations,” Anderson said. “We can get feedback from them about how the spaces are used. Having conversations with them has been helpful.”

Communication is a priority and collaborative. If a space is to be closed or disinfected, EHS informs the building management (building manager or CSU) and posts signage shown to the building manager prior to posting. Information is made available to building management for use in notifying building occupants. The building management decides how to share the information with occupants. OHP directly contacts anyone considered a close contact of a member of the campus community who tests positive for COVID-19 and provides support to CSUs for notifying affected teams, regardless of whether the workplace was exposed.

EHS’s approach to helping ensure the safety of campus during the pandemic continues to evolve. Anderson said her team researches the latest information from health authorities but also utilizes information from other colleges and universities.

“We have adjusted the plan we’ve developed three or four times, and I think we’ve made improvements,” she said. “Health and wellness are our priority.”