During the terror brought upon us by the COVID-19 virus, everyday things like working at the office are dangerous and in some situations even life threatening. Even when half of the employees work at home, the risk of infection is still very present. Why? Read our explanation below.
A great example is the outbreak in a call center (comparable to working at the office). A single infected employee came to work on the 11th floor of a building. That floor had 216 employees. Over the period of a week, 94 of those people became infected (43.5%). 92 of those 94 people became sick (only 2 remained asymptomatic). Remarkable is that only one side of the office was primarily infected, while there were very few people infected on the other side.
Exact numbers of people infected by respiratory droplets/ respiratory exposure verse fomite transmission is unknown. It serves to highlight that being in an enclosed space, sharing the same air for a prolonged period increases your chances of exposure and infection. Another 3 people on other floors of the building were infected, but the authors were not able to trace the infection to the primary cluster on the 11th floor. Interestingly, even though there were considerable interactions between workers on different floors of the building in elevators and the lobby, the outbreak was mostly limited to a single floor. This highlights the importance of exposure and time in the spreading of SARS-CoV2.
The principle is viral exposure over an extended period of time. In the above case, people were exposed to the virus in the air for a prolonged period (hours). Even if they were 50 feet away (a.g. a choir or a call center), even a low dose of the virus in the air reaching them, over a sustained period, is enough to cause infection and in some cases, death. It is “dose and time” needed for infection. If you are sitting in a well ventilated space, with few people, the risk of infection is lower.
Social distancing guidelines don’t hold in indoor spaces where you spend a lot of time, if a person on the opposite side of the room is infected. The main sources for infection are home, workplace, public transport, social gatherings, and restaurants. This accounts for 90% of all transmission events. How many people are here, how much airflow is there around me, and how long will I be in this environment. If you are in an open floorplan office, you really need to critically assess the risk (volume, people, and airflow).
When you are in a job that requires face-to-face talking or even worse, yelling, you need to assess the risk. If you’ve been working in a (partly populated) office, an antibody test may be helpful for you.