Preparing for a New Normal: Re-Opening After COVID-19

Preparing for a New Normal: Re-Opening After COVID-19

Considerations from the 3R Sustainability Team 

As stores, businesses, and other organizations re-open the doors to patrons and employees, there is a lot to consider. Whether you are a building owner, property manager, or an individual employee, the 3R team offers the following items for consideration to assist in a healthy, safe, and productive re-opening.  3R can help you determine the impacts that are most relevant to you and propose an action plan to best meet your needs.   

Please note that the following should simply be taken as recommendations from our point of view and are not meant to be taken as legal advice, specific recommendation, or as a substitute of the CDC guidelines.  All businesses should take actions based on their particular circumstances and in line with CDC, state and local guidelines. 

CDC guidelines can be found at:  

For ease of reference, we have categorized the considerations into checklists based on responsible party below

Building Owners and Managers

Improving air and water quality should be on the top of your list to prevent air stagnation and respiratory diseases, as well as to decrease the concentration of airborne and waterborne viruses.  The following list includes high-priority items that should be considered when adjusting indoor air quality.

Sanitation and Commissioning of your HVAC Systems: Priority should be given to ensuring that the HVAC system in your building is operating optimally, and the internal and external components have been cleaned and sanitized

  • Confirm proper HVAC and plumbing operating parameters: Review temperature and humidity control, general positive pressurization, exhaust for restrooms and potentially contaminated areas, and continued cooling water treatment.
  • Perform pre and post-occupancy flush outs: Operate the system for approximately 2 hours before occupancy and for 2 hours after occupancy.
  • Change the filters: Change the filters before re-entry and more frequently thereafter. Consult with your HVAC engineer or contractor to establish a revised filter change schedule and to determine the maximum MERV rating compatible with your system.
  • Clean the coils: Since the heating and cooling coils can become covered in a biofilm over time, clean the coils before re-entry and ensure that a proper cleaning schedule is maintained over time. Cleaning the coils can help to provide clean air, ensure that proper heat transfer takes place and ensure that proper airflow is delivered.
  • Clean the condensate trap: Clean the condensate trap before re-entry and ensure that a proper cleaning schedule is maintained over time in order to prevent the buildup of contaminants that can leak into the airstream.
  • Clean the return and supply air grills, and exhaust fans: Since dirt and contaminants build up over time on these surfaces, clean them before re-entry and ensure that a proper cleaning schedule is maintained over time to increase filter life, provide proper airflow, and reduce contact with contaminants on the surfaces.
  • Check exhaust fans: Inspect system to ensure that exhaust from restrooms, print rooms and storage rooms are exhausting directly to the outdoors and are not contaminating the return air flow.
  • Ensure sufficient outdoor air supply:  Work with your engineer to ensure that the system economizer and outside airflow are sufficient for the space and populations and consider increasing outside airflow, based on system limits, to dilute contaminants.

Service Water System Maintenance:  Since most service water systems have been dormant for a few months, priority should be given to the sanitation and operation of the water fixtures within your building.

  • Confirm proper plumbing system operating parameters: Circulate DHW regularly, maintain full plumbing traps, and consult with an engineer or outside testing agency to regularly test water for contaminants.
  • Ensure appropriate hot water temperatures: ASHRAE Standard 188 establishes minimum legionellosis risk management, which details proper water temperatures to avoid harboring legionella. It is highly recommended that issues addressed in this standard be implemented.
  • Perform re-entry plumbing flush out: Flush out plumbing before re-entry to ensure that potential contaminants are eliminated.
  • Verify efficient fixture operation: It is common for fixtures such as lavatory faucets and flush valves to cease working when not used in a few months depending on the age of the fixture. Verify performance in order to continue efficient and contaminant free water use.
  • Clean the plumbing fixtures: Since dirt and contaminants build up over time on fixture surfaces, clean them before re-entry and ensure that a proper cleaning schedule is maintained over time to reduce contact with contaminants on the surfaces.

3R can act as your representative, offering consulting services to ensure that all the above issues are addressed by your MEP contractor or in-house MEP team, to optimize system performance. 

Directors of Operations and Management

Risk planning and emergency preparedness should be on the top of your list for smooth operation now and in the medium- and long-term. Regularly evaluating policies and procedures can help your organization better respond to unforeseen events as well as mitigate potentially detrimental future risks.

  • Tele-working: To reduce the risk of person to person contact even after it is safe for occupants to return to your facility, give employees the option of tele-working in order to decrease office population and to limit the use of public transit for commuting.
  • Traveler’s Quarantine: Implement a policy requiring workers to work from home or work in an isolated environment after traveling. The length of time for quarantine should consider CDC, state and local guidelines.
  • Signage: Add proper signage to inform occupants of cleaning procedures, mask usage, distancing reminders, and other CDC recommended guidelines.
  • Restricted use of shared spaces:  If small vestibules or elevators must be used, consider limiting capacity where possible and staggering break times.
  • Green Cleaning Policy: Implement a Green Cleaning Policy to reduce the use of potentially harmful chemicals. This policy should detail products for purchase, as well as guidelines for product use, such as: when decontaminants should be used (usually once to remove known virus contamination) vs. when disinfectants should be used (more frequently for general cleaning).
  • Employee H&S: Implement an employee/occupant self-temperature monitoring station in lobby or vestibule, or prior to entry to general office space. Implement an employee self-disinfecting policy for the individual employee work area. Discourage sharing of electronic devices and office supplies or equipment.
  • Risk Assessments: Allowing employees and/or regular occupants into your organizational space poses a plethora of risks. Work with 3R to determine the issues (internal and external) that are material to your organization and that have the potential to disrupt your organizational goals:

– Which risks are most pertinent?
– What policies and procedures do you have in place to lessen the impacts of these risks?

  • Occupant Survey: Customize procedures based on feedback from employee surveys and an assessment of the potential shocks and stressors in your organization. Work with 3R to answer the following questions:

– What kind of wants/needs do your regular occupants have and how can you best meet those requirements when workers are in or outside of the office (e.g. social interaction, and physical and mental health)?
– How can you best accommodate employees who need backup child-care if their provider is not available?
– Does anyone have potential chemical sensitivities? If so, can you offer tele-working opportunities for those who are sensitive to the particular chemicals that are required to address the contaminants in the workplace.

3R can help tailor policies and surveys based on your organization structure and typical operations. Once workers return to your organizational space, occupant surveys can be a great way to gauge the effectiveness of your policies and procedures. 

Custodial Staff and Individual Employees

Cleaning protocols and products should be high on your list to ensure a healthy return to the workspace. While we all may be quick to grab the most potent decontaminant every time a countertop, doorknob, or keyboard is touched, we must be wary of the chemicals that we expose ourselves to, sometimes even on a short-term basis. Whether you are responsible for the heavy-duty cleaning in an office space or simply are a conscious employee, consider the following:

  • Green Cleaning ImplementationEnsure that staff and employees are aware of the following distinction:

– Decontaminants: Use powerful decontaminants to sterilize the workspace prior to reopening but be cautious of use and use sparingly thereafter.
– Disinfectants: Look for general cleaning products that meet criteria such as GreenSeal, EPA Safer Choice Standard and/or other third-party certified criteria.

  • Safety measures: Consider posting CDC approved signage indicating that social distancing, respiratory etiquette, handwashing, surface disinfecting, and wearing masks and reducing face touching are major factors in reducing virus transmission. Provide sanitizer stations as required.
  • Maintenance hours: Schedule routine cleanings or non-emergency maintenance during times of no to low occupancy.
  • Restricted use of shared spaces: Avoid shared areas such as small vestibules, elevators, congested conference rooms and seating or lounge areas.
  • Touchless Tech: Consider the addition of touchless garbage and recycling bins, faucets and soap dispensers.
  • Pack in/Pack out: As an individual employee, consider actions such as bringing your own cookware, silverware, mugs, and office supplies. Bringing your own supplies and taking everything with you to be washed at home may seem burdensome but can help prevent cross contamination and virus spread.

3R can help to assess organizational requirements and design programs to meet organizational needs. 

Additional Long-term Considerations:

One way to make sure all your bases are covered long term is by implementing a Business Continuity Plan to prepare for and lessen negative impacts felt from a disruption. 3R can assist you in preparing a plan to best meet your needs and manage your business risks.

In these uncertain and challenging times, sustainability is more important than ever for the long-term health, success and resilience of your business. Considering the health of your occupants, performing risk assessments, and implementing emergency and general policies and procedures all fall under the sustainability umbrella. The checklist outlined above highlights only a few of the strategies that require consideration. Working with 3R to assess current policies and procedures can help you to push the envelope, moving beyond sustainability to become a truly resilient organization. Call us today for a virtual tour of our successful office re-entry plan, and for more information on how we can help your organization prepare for a safe, healthy, and successful re-opening, not for just today but for every day.