After 12 months of working from home, with vaccines getting into arms around the country and much of the vulnerable population already vaccinated, many businesses are gearing up for in-person work again.
Understandably, vaccinated or not, many of us are pretty anxious about going back to being around people all day. Before you buy anything, have a conversation with your manager or employee representative to make sure you’re heading into a healthy and clean working environment, and also check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on the process.
We spoke with Dr. Jason E. Farley, an infectious disease-trained nurse epidemiologist and nurse practitioner in the division of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins Schools of Nursing and Medicine, about how you can protect yourself — and your co-workers — in our new normal.
You still need to wear personal protection equipment
“Everyone should be still wearing masks,” says Farley. “CDC recommendations for this have not changed. Obviously states are making different determinations across the country and potentially put both the worker as well as the general public at risk through those decisions.”
It’s important to evaluate your risk, Farley says, when selecting your mask.
“Depending on your personal risk, if you’re mandated to return to [the] office, you should potentially look for an N95 or KN95, or at least an N95 filter insert. They have various forms of filter that are N95-like, although they won’t provide the same level of protection,” he says.
Suncoo Protective KN95 Face Masks, 20-Pack ($29.99; amazon.com)
The top-reviewed KN95 mask on Amazon, this Suncoo Protective mask has five layers to keep you safe and comes in a 20-pack.
Halidodo Individually Wrapped KN95 Face Masks, 60-Pack ($49.99, originally $79.94; amazon.com)
This product contains 60 individually wrapped KN95 masks you can tuck into your work bag, desk drawer or pocket so you can mask up at a moment’s notice.
Hotodeal KN95 Breathable Safety Mask ($36.99; amazon.com)
This KN95 mask gets high marks from reviewers over just how comfortable it is to wear — not to mention it’s ultra breathable.
BestMaskBoutique Face Mask (starting at $5.99; etsy.com)
If you can’t get your hands on an N95 mask, then a cloth mask with a nose wire and filter, or worn over a surgical mask, definitely works too, according to the CDC.
“A second mask might also be a good idea, depending on your individual risk circumstances,” Farley says.
These 100% cotton masks are double-quilted for extra protection and would fit nicely over a surgical mask.
Baggu Fabric Mask Set Loop, 3-Pack ($32; baggu.com)
Another fabric mask set that’s great for double masking are these Baggu masks. With a filter pocket, bendable nose wire, close fit, adjustable ear loops and lots and lots of pretty patterns, these are among our fave masks ever.
Wapike Disposable Face Masks, 50-Pack ($9.99; amazon.com)
These surgical masks come with a bendable metal nose wire, are great for double masking and fit really well, according to reviewers.
Jandel 1 New KN95 Mask Silicone Storage Bag ($9.69; walmart.com)
It’s important to keep your mask clean and sanitary, so if you may take off your mask during the day, this storage bag will keep it safe.
ICU Health Carbon Filter Face Mask Insert ($12.19; target.com)
If you’re not able to use or find an N95 mask, these insert filters will give you — and your co-workers — extra protection against transmitting the virus.
Have you been fully vaccinated?
Just because some people at your workplace may have been vaccinated, including you, doesn’t mean everyone has gotten a jab. Farley says it’s important to still be careful, even if you’ve had the vaccine.
“We’re not going to place any individual at greater risk because some of us have gotten vaccinated and some of us have not,” Farley says. “You definitely want to get ahead of that in your office environment, if people are coming back into that space, particularly if it’s not their choice.”
The CDC agrees, and issued new guidelines on March 8, saying on its website, “You should still take steps to protect yourself and others in many situations, like wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet apart from others and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.”
That means stay vigilant!
Take your temperature before heading in
Farley says you should “absolutely” regularly check your temperature, adding that at Johns Hopkins, where he has been in-person since May, “I have to complete a symptom screen through an app that I must show when I arrive on campus.”
FLTR No-Contact Infrared Digital Forehead Thermometer ($48.99; target.com)
This contact-free forehead thermometer is a great way to check yourself and your co-workers for a fever.
If you’re the manager or boss, Farley says, “I think it’s beholden to the manager and the organizational culture to ensure that there’s communication about it and that there are standards set.”
iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer ($19.99, originally $24.99; amazon.com)
Check your temperature — or someone else’s — with the single touch of a button with this highly rated thermometer.
Yes, you still need to keep your hands clean
“The alcohol-based products work well against the virus. There’s no change there,” says Farley. “We still have to remain diligent at this point with masking, with hand hygiene, with social distancing, in addition to getting the vaccine when it’s available to you.”
And as a reminder when shopping for hand sanitizers, the CDC recommends those with at least 60% alcohol.
Touchland Power Mist Hand Sanitizer in Watermelon ($12; touchland.com)
This cult- and Underscored-favorite spray sanitizer is less gloopy on the hands than many sanitizers, and it smells great.
Megababe Squeaky Clean 8-Ounce Hand Sanitizer ($12.19; target.com)
The plant-based alcohol in this Underscored-favorite sanitizer promises to kill 99.9% of germs on contact, and it smells like lemons.
Organic Bath Co. PeaceFull Wash ($14.99, originally $20; thrivemarket.com)
Make hand-washing a little more relaxing with this wash made with organic coconut and olive oil.
Raw Sugar Foaming Hand Wash Coconut + Verbena + Lime ($3.99; target.com)
Clean your hands with actually yummy-smelling stuff, and boost your hands’ collagen with this hand wash.
If your skin is getting dry from all this washing, find the best hand creams, according to dermatologists.