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Biden administration guidance on pandemic safety protocols in federal workplaces tells agencies to more strictly enforce social distancing at the workplace—including through changes to work schedules and alignment of work spaces—in addition to imposing more stringent requirements regarding wearing masks.

A model policy for agencies to follow says that in general “no federal workplace should operate above 25% of normal occupancy standards at any given time during periods of high community prevalence or transmission” with exceptions allowed only by the agency head with the advice of the agency’s COVID-19 Coordination Team and the interagency Safer Federal Workforce Task Force—entities newly formed by an executive order that was among the first Biden initiatives.

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“To the extent practicable, individuals will be asked to maintain distance of at least six feet from others at all times, consistent with CDC guidelines, including in offices, conference rooms, and all other communal and work spaces,” it adds.

To accomplish those goals:

* “The agency’s COVID-19 Coordination Team should develop a staffing plan that outlines which employees will work on-site full-time, on-site occasionally, or fully remote.”

* “One-way walkways, reconfiguration of workspaces or office assignments, and other mitigation strategies may be implemented to minimize interactions.”

* “Physical barriers such as plexiglass shields may be installed where appropriate.”

* “To the maximum extent feasible, indoor ventilation will be optimized to increase the proportion of outdoor ventilation, improve filtration, and reduce or eliminate recirculation.”

* “The number of visitors to the federal workplace should be minimized, and efforts should be made to conduct visits virtually where possible. Any visitor should be screened, tested if appropriate, and asked to fill out a symptom questionnaire form before entering the workplace.”

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* “Personnel will be encouraged to stagger work times to reduce density, minimize traffic volume in elevators, and avoid crowds during commuting. Agencies are also able to implement cohort-based scheduling, to help reduce exposure. Agency HR teams should work with OPM to understand the pay and leave implications surrounding staggered work schedules and other flexibilities.”

* “Occupational health professionals in each agency should assess elevators to determine safe occupancy. Individuals must wear masks in elevators and in elevator lobbies. The use of stairs by those who are physically able is strongly encouraged. Signage will be posted to explain current procedures.”

* “Visual markers may be installed to promote physical distancing within common spaces, and furniture may be removed. Steps may be taken to limit the number of people who can use common spaces at any one time, and signage outlining these limits should be prominently displayed.”

Other elements of the policy include that: official domestic travel should be limited to only mission critical trips and international travel should also be avoided if at all possible unless it is mission critical; employees working on site are to be asked to regularly complete symptom screening; an employee who develops symptoms during the day is to immediately isolate, notify their supervisor, and promptly leave the workplace; agencies are to enhance cleaning in common use/high touch/high density spaces, provide wipes, gloves and approved disinfectants to employees to clean their own workstations, and hand sanitizer at the building entrance and throughout workspaces.

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