VDH Interim Guidance for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers During Widespread Community Transmission in Virginia

On this page: 

Background
Creating a COVID-19 Plan
Transmission of COVID-19 in Processing Plants
Prevention and Control Strategies
Engineering Controls
Administrative Controls
Educate and Train Employees and Supervisors
Cleaning and Disinfection
Employee Self-Monitoring
Employee Screening
Workers Potentially Exposed to COVID-19
Testing Exposed Workers after a COVID-19 Case is Identified
Works with COVID-19 Illness
Return to Work Criteria
Confidentiality Considerations and Reporting Requirements
Workers’ Rights

Summary of recent changes:

  • January 10: changed fully vaccinated language to align with updated CDC recommendations for people to stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines and updated isolation and quarantine recommendations
  • November 3: updated language about maintaining critical operations now that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available

Background

Meat and poultry processing facilities are a component of the critical infrastructure within the Food and Agriculture sector. All meat and poultry processing facilities maintaining plans for continuing operations in the setting of COVID-19 occurring among workers or in the surrounding community should:

(1) work directly with appropriate state and local public health officials and occupational

safety and health professionals;

(2) incorporate relevant aspects of CDC and VDH guidance; and

(3) incorporate guidance from other authoritative sources or regulatory bodies as needed.

Employers have an obligation to manage the continuation of work in a way that best protects the health of their workers and the general public. Employers are encouraged to create and maintain an updated COVID-19 response plan and work with state and local officials to coordinate on activities like worker communication, infection control, case investigation and contact tracing, and COVID-19 vaccination efforts. For additional information, see: 

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/workplaces-businesses/index.html

Lessons learned from investigating early outbreaks of COVID-19 in meat and poultry processing facilities can also be applied to inform investigations in and recommendations for other food production and agricultural workplaces.

Creating a COVID-19 Plan

A qualified workplace coordinator should be identified who will be responsible for COVID-19 assessment and control planning. All workers in the facility should know how to contact the identified coordinator with any COVID-19 concerns. Infection control and occupational safety and health plans should apply to anyone entering or working in the plant (e.g., all facility workers, contractors, and others). The workplace coordinator should be familiar with the CDC’s recommendations for Workplaces and Businesses.

Facility management should reach out to state and/or local public health officials and occupational safety and health professionals and establish ongoing communications to make sure they are getting relevant and up-to-date information concerning COVID-19. The workplace coordinators and management should also be aware of and follow all applicable federal regulations and public health agency guidelines. Worksite assessments to identify COVID-19 risks and prevention strategies should be done periodically as part of sound occupational health and public health practice. As part of these assessments, facilities should consider the appropriate role for testing, workplace contact tracing and vaccination, and how such efforts can best be aligned with those of their local health department.

Transmission of COVID-19 in Processing Plants

The virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is thought to spread mainly from person to person, either between people who are in close contact with one another or through respiratory droplets and aerosols produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. People who are not showing symptoms can spread the virus, though people are believed to be the most infectious to others while they are symptomatic. It may also be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

The work environment inside of processing plants, particularly processing lines and other areas in busy plants where workers have close contact with others, may contribute substantially to their potential exposures. The risk of occupational transmission of SARS-CoV-2 depends on several factors, including:

  • Distance between workers: Meat and poultry processing workers often work close to one another on processing lines. Workers may also be near one another at other times, such as when clocking in or out, during breaks, or in locker/changing rooms.
  • Duration of contact: Meat and poultry processing workers often have prolonged closeness to coworkers (e.g., for 10-12 hours per shift). Continued contact with potentially infectious individuals increases the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
  • Type of contact: Meat and poultry processing workers may be exposed to the infectious virus through respiratory droplets in the air – for example, when workers in the plant who have the virus cough or sneeze. It is also possible that exposure could occur from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, such as tools, workstations, or break room tables. Shared spaces such as break rooms, locker rooms, and entrances/exits to the facility may contribute to their risk.
  • COVID-19 vaccination status of workers: A growing body of evidence suggests that people who are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines are less likely to have asymptomatic infection or transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others. As the proportion of vaccinated workers in the workplace increases, the risk of occupational transmission of SARS-CoV-2 decreases.
  • Other distinctive factors that may increase risk among these workers include:
    • A common practice at some workplaces of sharing transportation such as ride-share vans or shuttle vehicles, car-pools, and public transportation.
    • Frequent contact with fellow workers in community settings in areas where there is ongoing community transmission.

Prevention and Control Strategies

Vaccinations are now available that greatly reduce a person’s risk of getting seriously ill from the virus that causes COVID-19. Unvaccinated employees should be encouraged and supported to make arrangements to get a vaccination. It is a critical step toward protecting an individual’s health and the health of those around them, including family, friends and coworkers. Employers interested in offering on-site COVID-19 vaccines for their employees can coordinate with their local health department. For more information about receiving a safe, effective and free COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia, visit Vaccinate.Virginia.gov or call 1-877-VAX-IN-VA.

Additional COVID-19 control strategies continue to be important and should be employed in a way that tailors to the individual processing plant while adequately protecting workers. Worker infection prevention recommendations are based on an approach known as the hierarchy of controls. This approach groups actions by their effectiveness in reducing or removing hazards. In most cases, the preferred approach is to eliminate a hazard or processes; install engineering controls; and implement appropriate cleaning, sanitation, and disinfection practices to reduce exposure or shield workers. Administrative controls are also an important part of an approach to prevention in these workplaces.

Engineering Controls:

  • Configure communal work environments so that workers are spaced at least six feet apart, if possible. Current information about the asymptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2 supports the need for physical distancing and other protective measures within a meat and poultry processing work environment, particularly for any workers who are not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations. Changes in production practices may be necessary in order to maintain appropriate distances among workers.
  • Modify the alignment of workstations, including along processing lines, if feasible, so that workers are at least six feet apart in all directions (e.g., side-to-side and when facing one another). Ideally, modify the alignment of workstations so that workers do not face one another. Consider using markings and signs to remind workers to maintain their location at their station away from each other and practice physical distancing on breaks.
  • Use physical barriers, such as strip curtains, plexiglass or similar materials, or other impermeable dividers or partitions, to separate meat and poultry processing workers from each other, where feasible.
  • Facilities should consider consulting with a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning engineer to ensure adequate ventilation in work areas to help minimize workers’ potential exposures.
  • If fans such as pedestal fans or hard mounted fans are used in the facility, take steps to minimize air from fans blowing from one worker directly at another worker. Personal cooling fans should be removed from the workplace to reduce the potential spread of any airborne or aerosolized viruses. If fans are removed, employers should remain aware of, and take steps to prevent, heat hazards.
  • Place handwashing stations or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene.
    • Install touchless faucets, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers and trash recepticles, where possible.
    • Provide single-use paper towels at all handwashing stations. Avoid air hand dryers, which may disperse virus particles in the air.
    • Choose hand sanitizer stations that are touch-free.
    • See OSHA’s Sanitation Standard (29 CFR 1910.141), which requires employers to provide handwashing facilities for workers.
  • Add additional clock in/out stations, if possible, that are spaced apart, to reduce crowding in these areas. Consider alternatives such as touch-free methods or staggering times for workers to clock in/out.
    • Mark out 6-foot distances (or circles) for workers to stand in while they wait to punch in.
    • Alternatively, create methods for employee time-tracking other than using a common time-clock.
  • Remove or rearrange chairs and tables, or add partitions to tables, in break rooms and other areas workers may frequent to increase worker separation. Identify alternative areas to accommodate overflow volume such as training and conference rooms, or using outside tents for break and lunch areas.
  • Create separate shift entry and exit points to avoid unnecessary comingling of staff.
  • Remove unnecessary doors, turnstiles, or other physical barriers to increase circulation and decrease high touch areas.
  • Noise levels in production areas might require the use of hearing protection. Consider devising a method of non-verbal communication using sign language or pictograms for the most common communications to facilitate worker communication while maintaining physical distance.

Administrative Controls:

Employers should do the following to promote COVID-19 vaccination:

  • Encourage employees to get vaccinated and keep their vaccination status up to date. COVID-19 vaccinations are widely available, free, safe, and effective at preventing infection and reducing transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Vaccination is the best way to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19.
  • Provide access to COVID-19 vaccinations to make it easy for employees to get vaccinated. This can be done in collaboration with your local health department or other healthcare providers, including occupational health programs.
  • Ensure that employees know where and how they can get vaccinated for COVID-19 and who they should turn to if they have questions about vaccination.
  • Consider offering COVID-19 vaccines to families of employees to encourage vaccine uptake.

Employers should do the following to promote mask use in the workplace:

  • CDC recommends that everyone wear masks in indoor public spaces. Masks are especially important when physical distancing is not possible or feasible based on working conditions.
    • A mask may reduce the amount of large respiratory droplets that a person spreads when talking, sneezing, or coughing. People may or may not not know that they have the virus that causes COVID-19 (asymptomatic infection). Masks may prevent people with the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading it to others and may also reduce the number of viral particles the wearer is exposed to.
    • Cloth face masks are not PPE. They are not appropriate substitutes for PPE such as respirators (like N95 respirators) or medical facemasks (like surgical masks) in workplaces where respirators or facemasks are recommended or required.
    • While wearing masks is a public health measure intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it may not be practical for workers to wear a single mask for the full duration of a work shift (e.g., eight or more hours) in a meat or poultry processing facility if they become wet, soiled, or otherwise visibly contaminated during the work shift.
      • Employers should provide readily available clean masks (or disposable facemask options) for workers to use when the masks become wet, soiled, or otherwise visibly contaminated.
    • Employers should ensure that employee masks:
      • fit over the nose and mouth and fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face;
      • are secured with ties or ear loops;
      • include multiple layers of tightly woven fabric;
      • allows for breathing without restriction;
      • can be laundered using the warmest appropriate water setting and machine dried daily after the shift, without damage or change to shape (a clean mask should be used each day);
      • are not used if they become wet or contaminated;
      • are replaced with clean replacements, provided by the employer, as needed;
      • are handled as little as possible to prevent transferring infectious materials to the cloth; and
      • are not worn with or instead of respiratory protection when respirators are needed.
    • Businesses retain the ability to require masks in their facilities, regardless of a person’s vaccination status.

Employers should do the following to promote physical distancing in the workplace:

  • Encourage single-file movement with a six-foot distance between each worker through the facility.
  • Mark out a 6-foot line in front of supervisor/management desks.
  • Designate workers to monitor and facilitate distancing on processing floor lines.
  • Stagger break times or provide temporary break areas and restrooms to avoid groups of workers who are not up to date on their recommended COVID-19 vaccinations gathering during breaks. Workers who are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations should maintain at least six feet of distance from others at all times, including on breaks.
    • Consider putting up tents with tables so employees can spread out at break and lunchtimes.
  • Have in-person meetings only when needed. Limit the number of people in attendance and maintain physical distancing between participants as much as possible.
  • Stagger workers’ arrivals and departure times to avoid congregations of workers in parking areas, locker rooms and near time clocks.
  • Try to keep people in one production area as much as possible to avoid population mingling and increased exposure risk.
  • Restrict access to plant areas to only those who need to be there.
  • Encourage workers to avoid carpooling to and from work, if possible.
  • If carpooling or using company shuttle vehicles is a necessity for workers, the following control practices should be used:
    • Limit the number of people per vehicle as much as possible. This may mean using more vehicles or making multiple trips.
    • Encourage employees to maintain physical distancing as much as possible.
    • Encourage employees to use hand hygiene before entering the vehicle and when arriving at the destination.
    • Require that employees in a shared van or car space wear masks that cover the nose and mouth.
    • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces after each carpool or shuttle trip (e.g., door handles, handrails, seatbelt buckles).
    • Encourage employees to follow coughing and sneezing etiquette when in the vehicle.
    • Encourage cohorting those who ride share such that the same group rides together consistently.
  • Encourage the message that for workers who are not yet vaccinated, physical distancing needs to continue at home and in the community, as well as in the workplace.

Employers may determine that processing or production lines, shifts, and staggering workers across shifts would help to maintain overall meat and poultry processing capacity while measures to minimize exposure to SARS-CoV-2 are in place. For example, a plant that normally operates on one daytime shift may be able to split workers into two or three shifts throughout a 24-hour period. In meat and poultry processing plants, one shift may need to be reserved for cleaning and sanitization.

Monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace. Implement plans to continue essential business functions in cases of higher than usual absenteeism.

Consider employee incentive and support measures to increase the likelihood that sick employees and employees at increased risk for severe illness will stay home:

  • Educate workers about reporting illness to their supervisors and the importance of not coming to work while ill.
  • Analyze sick leave policies and consider modifying them to make sure that ill workers are not in the workplace. Make sure that employees are aware of and understand these policies.
    • Additional flexibilities might include giving advances on future sick leave and allowing employees to donate sick leave to each other.
    • An employee’s living situation may be such that it is difficult to appropriately isolate from other people while ill. This has the potential to facilitate additional exposures within the home environment and subsequently promote community transmission. In these instances, employers may want to consider sequestering ill employees in separate living facilities, such as hotels, where employees can reside in single rooms with single bathrooms and are supported to stay in their rooms by providing wraparound services such as food delivery.
    • Assess workforce and staffing needs with self-quarantine in mind to see how exposed workers who are not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations might be able to stay home after an exposure.
  • Provide flexible, non-punitive sick leave options (e.g., paid sick leave) for vaccinated
    • Analyze any incentive programs and consider modifying them so that employees who are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations are not penalized for taking sick leave if they have signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
    • Consider paid leave for those who may need post-vaccination recovery time to encourage vaccination.
  • Support workers who are not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations and meet the definition of close contact so that they can quarantine at home.
    • Employees who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations do not need to quarantine after an exposure, however, they should still monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days following an exposure and get tested after the exposure, even if they don’t have symptoms.
  • Encourage workers to share their place of work with the health department to facilitate contact tracing and let them know that doing this will not result in punative action. Further, employees should be encouraged to share the specific section(s) of the plant they work in so that contact tracing can be effective.

Consider cohorting (grouping together) workers. This can increase the effectiveness of altering the plant’s normal shift schedules by making sure that groups of workers are always assigned to the same shifts with the same coworkers. Cohorting may reduce the spread of workplace SARS-CoV-2 transmission by minimizing the number of different individuals who come into close contact with each other over the course of a week. Cohorting can help to reduce the number of workers that need to quarantine because of exposure to the virus.

Establish a system for employees to alert their supervisors if they are experiencing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have had recent close contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case.

  • In addition to general illness reporting procedures, have a plan as to where an employee who becomes sick while at work can be isolated until they can be safely transported to their home or other location where they will continue to isolate until illness resolves.

Consider other workplace programs to promote personal hygiene, such as:

  • building additional short breaks into staff schedules to increase how often staff can wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol;
  • educating workers that cigarettes and smokeless tobacco use can lead to increased contact between potentially contaminated hands and their mouth, and that avoiding these products may reduce their risk of infection.
  • Workers should be educated to avoid touching their faces, including their eyes, noses, and mouths, particularly until after they have thoroughly washed their hands upon completing work and/or removing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Employers should do the following to promote COVID-19 vaccination:

  • Encourage employees to get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccinations are widely available, free, safe, and effective at preventing infection and reducing transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Vaccination is the best way to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19.
  • Provide access to COVID-19 vaccinations to make it easy for employees to get vaccinated. This can be done in collaboration with your local health department or other healthcare providers, including occupational health programs.
  • Ensure that employees know where and how they can get vaccinated for COVID-19 and who they should turn to if they have questions about vaccination.
  • Consider offering COVID-19 vaccines to families of employees to encourage vaccine uptake.

Employers should do the following to promote mask use in the workplace:

  • CDC recommends that everyone wear cloth face masks in indoor public spaces. Masks are especially important when physical distancing is not possible or feasible based on working conditions.
    • A mask may reduce the amount of large respiratory droplets that a person spreads when talking, sneezing, or coughing. People may or may not not know that they have the virus that causes COVID-19 (asymptomatic infection). Masks may prevent people with the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading it to others and may also reduce the number of viral particles the wearer is exposed to.
    • Cloth face masks are not PPE. They are not appropriate substitutes for PPE such as respirators (like N95 respirators) or medical facemasks (like surgical masks) in workplaces where respirators or facemasks are recommended or required.
    • While wearing masks is a public health measure intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it may not be practical for workers to wear a single mask for the full duration of a work shift (e.g., eight or more hours) in a meat or poultry processing facility if they become wet, soiled, or otherwise visibly contaminated during the work shift.
      • Employers should provide readily available clean masks (or disposable facemask options) for workers to use when the masks become wet, soiled, or otherwise visibly contaminated.
    • Employers should ensure that employee masks:
      • fit over the nose and mouth and fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face;
      • are secured with ties or ear loops;
      • include multiple layers of tightly woven fabric;
      • allows for breathing without restriction;
      • can be laundered using the warmest appropriate water setting and machine dried daily after the shift, without damage or change to shape (a clean mask should be used each day);
      • are not used if they become wet or contaminated;
      • are replaced with clean replacements, provided by the employer, as needed;
      • are handled as little as possible to prevent transferring infectious materials to the cloth; and
      • are not worn with or instead of respiratory protection when respirators are needed.
    • Businesses retain the ability to require masks in their facilities, regardless of a person’s vaccination status.

Employers should do the following to promote physical distancing in the workplace:

  • Encourage single-file movement with a six-foot distance between each worker through the facility.
  • Mark out a 6-foot line in front of supervisor/management desks.
  • Designate workers to monitor and facilitate distancing on processing floor lines.
  • Stagger break times or provide temporary break areas and restrooms to avoid groups of workers who are not yet fully vaccinated gathering during breaks. Workers who are not fully vaccinated should maintain at least six feet of distance from others at all times, including on breaks.
    • Consider putting up tents with tables so employees can spread out at break and lunchtimes.
  • Have in-person meetings only when needed. Limit the number of people in attendance and maintain physical distancing between participants as much as possible.
  • Stagger workers’ arrivals and departure times to avoid congregations of workers in parking areas, locker rooms and near time clocks.
  • Try to keep people in one production area as much as possible to avoid population mingling and increased exposure risk.
  • Restrict access to plant areas to only those who need to be there.
  • Encourage workers to avoid carpooling to and from work, if possible.
  • If carpooling or using company shuttle vehicles is a necessity for workers, the following control practices should be used:
    • Limit the number of people per vehicle as much as possible. This may mean using more vehicles or making multiple trips.
    • Encourage employees to maintain physical distancing as much as possible.
    • Encourage employees to use hand hygiene before entering the vehicle and when arriving at the destination.
    • Require that employees in a shared van or car space wear cloth face masks that cover the nose and mouth.
    • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces after each carpool or shuttle trip (e.g., door handles, handrails, seatbelt buckles).
    • Encourage employees to follow coughing and sneezing etiquette when in the vehicle.
    • Encourage cohorting those who ride share such that the same group rides together consistently.
  • Encourage the message that for workers who are not yet fully vaccinated, physical distancing needs to continue at home and in the community, as well as in the workplace.

Employers may determine that processing or production lines, shifts, and staggering workers across shifts would help to maintain overall meat and poultry processing capacity while measures to minimize exposure to SARS-CoV-2 are in place. For example, a plant that normally operates on one daytime shift may be able to split workers into two or three shifts throughout a 24-hour period. In meat and poultry processing plants, one shift may need to be reserved for cleaning and sanitization.

Monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace. Implement plans to continue essential business functions in cases of higher than usual absenteeism.

Consider employee incentive and support measures to increase the likelihood that sick employees and employees at increased risk for severe illness will stay home:

  • Educate workers about reporting illness to their supervisors and the importance of not coming to work while ill.
  • Analyze sick leave policies and consider modifying them to make sure that ill workers are not in the workplace. Make sure that employees are aware of and understand these policies.
    • Additional flexibilities might include giving advances on future sick leave and allowing employees to donate sick leave to each other.
    • An employee’s living situation may be such that it is difficult to appropriately isolate from other people while ill. This has the potential to facilitate additional exposures within the home environment and subsequently promote community transmission. In these instances, employers may want to consider sequestering ill employees in separate living facilities, such as hotels, where employees can reside in single rooms with single bathrooms and are supported to stay in their rooms by providing wraparound services such as food delivery.
    • Assess workforce and staffing needs with self-quarantine in mind to see how exposed workers who are not yet fully vaccinated might be able to stay home after an exposure.
  • Provide flexible, non-punitive sick leave options (e.g., paid sick leave) for fully vaccinated
    • Analyze any incentive programs and consider modifying them so that fully vaccinated employees are not penalized for taking sick leave if they have signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
    • Consider paid leave for those who may need post-vaccination recovery time to encourage vaccination.
  • Support workers who are not yet fully vaccinated and meet the definition of close contact so that they can quarantine at home.
  • Encourage workers to share their place of work with the health department to facilitate contact tracing and let them know that doing this will not result in punative action. Further, employees should be encouraged to share the specific section(s) of the plant they work in so that contact tracing can be effective.

Consider cohorting (grouping together) workers. This can increase the effectiveness of altering the plant’s normal shift schedules by making sure that groups of workers are always assigned to the same shifts with the same coworkers. Cohorting may reduce the spread of workplace SARS-CoV-2 transmission by minimizing the number of different individuals who come into close contact with each other over the course of a week. Cohorting can help to reduce the number of workers that need to quarantine because of exposure to the virus.

Establish a system for employees to alert their supervisors if they are experiencing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have had recent close contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case.

  • In addition to general illness reporting procedures, have a plan as to where an employee who becomes sick while at work can be isolated until they can be safely transported to their home or other location where they will continue to isolate until illness resolves.

Consider other workplace programs to promote personal hygiene, such as:

  • building additional short breaks into staff schedules to increase how often staff can wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol;
  • educating workers that cigarettes and smokeless tobacco use can lead to increased contact between potentially contaminated hands and their mouth, and that avoiding these products may reduce their risk of infection.
  • Workers should be educated to avoid touching their faces, including their eyes, noses, and mouths, particularly until after they have thoroughly washed their hands upon completing work and/or removing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Educate and Train Employees and Supervisors 

Supplement workers’ normal and required job training (e.g., training required under OSHA standards) with additional training and information about COVID-19, including the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination, recognizing signs and symptoms of infection, and ways to prevent exposure to the virus. Signage educating workers about infection prevention and control strategies can complement this training. VDH has a signage toolkit available for businesses. Consider utilizing a variety of ways to convey key messages about COVID-19 to workers.

Prepare employees for changes in operations that may need to occur due to COVID-19, such as:

  • Cross-training workers to perform essential functions to maintain operations.
  • Assessing essential functions and how operations will be carried out with a reduced workforce.
  • Developing a communications plan to regularly share information to reinforce educational messages, provide updated information about COVID-19 and the number of confirmed cases at the plant, and to share updates about steps being taken to keep the workers safe, including vaccination, testing and contact tracing.
  • Educating workers about reporting illness to their supervisors and the importance of not coming to work while ill.
  • Working with health department officials to distribute information about COVID-19, how it is transmitted and the importance of vaccination, masking, physical distancing, handwashing, and other measures to prevent illness. Consider using media resources available to the plant, such as closed circuit TV in breakrooms and posted written materials in common areas, to emphasize the importance of this information.

Provide ongoing training to all management, supervisors and workers.  All training should be easy to understand and provided in languages that are understood by the worker. Training may need to be verbal. Options include pre-shift briefings or refresher training in settings where physical distancing can be maintained. Training topics should include the importance of COVID-19 vaccination, symptoms of COVID-19, how it spreads, risks for workplace exposures, and how workers can protect themselves, both at work and in the community.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Increased cleaning and disinfection are important to decrease the amount of virus in the environment. Refer to List N on the EPA website for EPA-registered disinfectants that have qualified under EPA’s emerging viral pathogens program for use against SARS-CoV-2.

  • Increase staffing for cleaning and disinfection, and increase the frequency of these activities.
  • Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas and shared electronic equipment routinely.
  • Conduct targeted, more frequent cleaning of high-touch areas and shared spaces (e.g., time clocks, bathroom fixtures, stair railings, break room tables and chairs, locker rooms, vending machines, railings, door handles and computers).
  • If tools are used by multiple workers – disinfect between shared use.
  • If a worker becomes ill at work, pay special attention to cleaning and disinfecting the areas where that person was working. Follow the guidance for cleaning and disinfecting your building or facility if someone is sick.
  • Check that you are following label directions and observing contact times.
  • Ensure the facility is adequately ventilated (and use air filters in systems where this is feasible) and that ventilation systems blow clean air in the worker’s breathing zone.

Employee Self-Monitoring

VDH recommends that all persons in the Commonwealth, regardless of known exposure or vaccination status, self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. Key points related to self-monitoring include:

  • In Virginia, there is currently increased community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 throughout the state. The recommendation for self-monitoring should be implemented until the risk of COVID-19 in Virginia communities decreases.
  • A VDH monitoring log is available (optional) to assist with self-monitoring.
  • All businesses/employers should request that their staff self-monitor for illness even in the absence of a formal, onsite occupational health program.
  • On days that workers are scheduled to work, the employer’s occupational health program should consider measuring employee temperature and assessing for symptoms prior to starting work/before each shift.
  • Employers should consult with their local health department regarding COVID-19 activity in the community and any planned changes in employee monitoring.

Employee Screening

Screening meat and poultry processing workers for COVID-19 symptoms (such as temperature checks) is another strategy that employers may use as part of their COVID-19 prevention and control plan. Symptom screening will not identify workers with asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections, but may help to keep those with illness (and therefore are presumably more infectious) out of the workplace. When presenting for work, have the employer’s occupational health program administer a verbal screening questionnaire and record the worker’s temperature. Ensure that screeners are trained to use temperature monitors and monitors are accurate under conditions of use (such as cold temperatures) and that screeners wear appropriate PPE.

  • The occupational health program may be located onsite or remotely.
  • If the employer does not have an occupational health program, determine if there are remote occupational health resources (e.g., telemedicine) available, or the employer can designate an individual responsible for administering the screening questionnaire and recording results.
  • If the employer employs <5 people or is located in a rural area, the operator may assume the responsibility of verbal screening and documenting the screening after receiving training. In these situations, workers should take their temperature before arriving at work and report the findings to the operator.
  • Screening communication should ideally be done in a language the worker can readily understand and be at an appropriate literacy level. Images to depict common signs and symptoms might be considered as a screening option if there are language barriers.
  • Consider posting screening questions in the most commonly spoken languages at the screening point to assist with this process.

To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, make employee health screenings as private as possible. Follow guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding confidentiality of medical records from health checks.

Questions to consider for verbal screening of employees include:

“YES or NO, since your last time at work have you had any of the following?”

  • A new fever (100.4 F or higher), or a sense of having a fever?
  • A new cough that you cannot attribute to another health condition?
  • New shortness of breath that you cannot attribute to another health condition?
  • New chills that you cannot attribute to another health condition?
  • A new sore throat that you cannot attribute to another health condition?
  • New muscle aches that you cannot attribute to another health condition, or that may have been caused by a specific activity (such as physical exercise)?
  • A new loss of taste or smell?

“YES or NO, in the last 4 hours have you:”

  • Taken any fever reducing medication?

If a worker answers YES to any of the above screening questions, the employer should:

  • Immediately isolate the ill worker from others and ask them to wear a face mask if they are not already wearing one.
  • Determine if the worker needs medical care.
  • Contact the occupational health program (if available) or supervisor.
  • Follow CDC recommendations for cleaning and disinfection of the home or facility.

 Workers Potentially Exposed to COVID-19

An exposure (or potential exposure) to COVID-19 is defined as having close contact with a person with COVID-19 while they were contagious.

  • Close contact means being within 6 feet of a person who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, or having other direct exposure.
  • A person with COVID-19 is considered to be contagious starting from 2 days before they became sick (or 2 days before they tested positive if they never had symptoms) until they meet the criteria to discontinue isolation.

If a worker is exposed, or potentially exposed to COVID-19, they might be advised to quarantine for a period of time after that exposure.

Workers who develop symptoms following an exposure, regardless of vaccination status, should be tested for the virus that causes COVID-19. If symptoms develop, or if a worker tests positive for COVID-19, the worker must self-isolate immediately and follow the guidance for persons with COVID-19.

Testing Exposed Workers after a COVID-19 Case is Identified

Early experience from COVID-19 outbreaks in a variety of settings suggests that when symptomatic workers with COVID-19 are identified, there are often asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic workers with SARS-CoV-2 present at the workplace. Testing is important to identify such individuals, as they may not know they are infected. SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic persons can result in additional cases and potentially outbreaks of COVID-19. Implementing screening for symptoms of COVID-19, testing, and contact tracing may be used to detect infected persons earlier and exclude them from the workplace, thus preventing disease transmission and subsequent outbreaks.

After a COVID-19 case is identified, those who meet the exposure definition as a close contact of the case should be tested to help determine their infection status. Viral (nucleic acid [PCR] or antigen) testing should be used to diagnose acute infection. A person’s COVID-19 vaccination status will not affect the results of PCR or antigen testing. Testing practices should aim for rapid turnaround times in order to facilitate effective control actions.

Testing can be performed by different organizations, including the public health department, an employee health clinic, a healthcare provider engaged by the employer, or local health care facilities. For more information on testing resources and strategies your locality, contact your local health department.

Workers with COVID-19 Illness

Workers with signs and symptoms of COVID-19 illness should isolate immediately to avoid spreading disease to others. VDH recommends that all employers develop a plan for for where workers who become ill while at work can be isolated at the workplace while waiting to be transported to either their home, alternate isolation facility (if the home environment can not facilitate appropriate isolation from others), or to a healthcare facility.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, chills, muscle pain, headache, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and new loss of taste or smell.

  • Most people with COVID-19 develop mild to moderate illness, and do not require medical care. In these situations, workers can self-isolate at home.
  • If the worker has trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, or other emergency signs, immediately get medical attention.
  • If a worker needs medical care, it is recommended to call ahead to that facility or hospital to describe the situation, especially if there is a concern for COVID-19.

Other workers who might have had close contact with the sick worker should be identified. Those who had close contact with the sick person while the person was symptomatic and for 48 hours prior to symptom onset should be included in a line list of potentially exposed persons. Strategies regarding the management of potentially exposed coworkers are described above and should be implemented in consultation with your local health department.

Return to Work Criteria

For information on when a person who was advised to isolate or quarantine can return to work, see When is it Safe to be Around Others?

Confidentiality Considerations and Reporting Requirements

Symptom screening, testing, and contact tracing must be carried out in a way that protects confidentiality and privacy, to the extent possible, and is consistent with applicable laws and regulations. Symptom screening upon entry to the workplace should be designed so that the screening process is conducted in as private a manner as possible, without a worker’s personal information being overheard or communicated inappropriately at any time. Because OSHA’s Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records standard (29 CFR § 1910.1020) requires that covered employers retain medical records for the duration of employment plus 30 years, consider the burdens and benefits of documenting individually identifiable results of entry screenings. Healthcare providers that are covered entities under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) must abide by HIPAA rules. Due to the “direct threat” posed by COVID-19 to co-workers, healthcare providers who test workers for COVID-19 as described in this guidance should notify employers of tested workers’ fitness for duty, workplace restrictions (e.g., restrictions on ability to enter the worksite, limitation to telework, etc.), and the need for contact tracing of other workers deemed to be in close contact, even if this might allow employers to surmise that employees might have COVID-19. However, providers should not share employees’ test results or diagnoses with employers without the employees’ permission, even though at entry screening, employers may ask all employees who will be physically entering the workplace if they have COVID-19, or symptoms associated with COVID-19, or ask if they have been tested for SARS-CoV-2.

Providers should report and explain test results to workers and notify the local health department of cases in a timely fashion. When employers become aware of cases, the Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses standard (29 CFR part 1904), may require certain employers to keep a record of serious work related injuries and illnesses, including work related COVID-19. In Virginia, employers with two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 at their work site within a 14-day period shall report those cases to both the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI). Those reports can be made through an online joint reporting portal available here.  Additional information about VDH reporting requirments for businesses is available here and additional information on DOLI reporting requirements is available here.

Workers’ Rights

Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 USC 660(c), prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for raising concerns about safety and health conditions. Additionally, OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the provisions of more than 20 industry-specific federal laws protecting employees from retaliation for raising or reporting concerns about hazards or violations of laws. OSHA encourages workers who suffer such retaliation to submit a complaint to OSHA as soon as possible in order to file their complaint within the legal time limits, some of which may be as short as 30 days from the date they learned of or experienced retaliation. An employee can file a complaint with OSHA by visiting or calling his or her local OSHA office; sending a written complaint via fax, mail, or email to the closest OSHA office; or filing a complaint online. No particular form is required, and complaints may be submitted in any language.

OSHA provides recommendations intended to assist employers in creating workplaces that are free of retaliation and guidance to employers on how to properly respond to workers who may complain about workplace hazards or potential violations of federal laws. OSHA urges employers to review its publication Recommended Practices for Anti-Retaliation Programs.

                                                                                                     Page last reviewed: January 10, 2022