As physical distancing restrictions begin to ease and industries slowly reopen, those who have been able to work from home during quarantine now face the prospect of heading back into work. And while it may feel good to get back to day-to-day life, it can also be a little nerve-racking.

Amir Mohareb, MD, of the Infectious Diseases Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, outlines steps you can take to reduce your risk for the coronavirus when going back to work.

Q: How safe is it to commute to work using public transportation?

A: There are a number of different things you can do so that you can travel safely in public.

First, it is important that people who are sick or who have had contact with someone with COVID-like symptoms, to avoid travel and stay home. If you are commuting to and from work, practice hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette:

  • Before you leave for your destination, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
  • Once you reach your destination, wash your hands again with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol as soon as possible upon arrival
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow
  • Throw used tissues in the trash and wash your hands immediately with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
  • Practice physical distancing as much as possible
  • During travel, try to keep at least six feet (2 meters) from people who are not in your household—for example, when you are waiting at a bus station or selecting seats on a train
  • Wear a cloth face covering when in public, especially when physical distancing is difficult

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides more detailed recommendations on how to safely use buses, trains, shared ride services and bicycles here.

Q: Can the virus travel over cubicle walls, particularly from asymptomatic carriers?

A: There are many uncertainties of how far or how aggressively the virus can travel in a workplace. This risk varies with a number of factors, including how crowded the workplace is, the type of ventilation used in the workplace and the community transmission activity of COVID-19.

For everyone, it is important to stay home if you are feeling sick or have been in recent contact with someone with COVID-19 symptoms. The CDC provides specific recommendations for different types of businesses and employers on how to safely open their businesses.

Q: Will it be safe to have in-person conference room meetings?

A: The primary mode of prevention for COVID-19 is to avoid close contact with others. People who are experiencing symptoms for COVID-19 illness should not go to work or to public places. Most in-person meetings can be adapted to be electronic or over the phone. Even though the number of COVID-19 cases is declining, there are many people who still have active infection and many others who are susceptible to being infected. For this reason, in-person meetings should be adapted to the CDC's physical distancing recommendations for the foreseeable future.

Follow Safety Recommendations as You Return to Work

Dr. Mohareb and colleagues point out that there are still many uncertainties around what the future of the COVID-19 outbreak will look like. Ultimately, it will only end when enough of the population is immune so that there is no longer widespread transmission of the virus.

This makes it all the more important to practice hand hygiene and physical distancing as best as possible as you return to work. Following the recommended guidelines will help reduce your risk for the coronavirus.