We study the impact of our surroundings, both natural and built, on health.
The field of environmental and occupational health covers everything from the air we breathe and the water we drink to the injuries and mental health challenges we may face at work. We strive to improve health by promoting practices and policies that reduce harmful exposures and protect vulnerable populations. From improving worker health and safety, to promoting healthy housing, to creating new tools to monitor air and water quality, we work to make our homes, our workplaces, and our communities healthier places for all.
A graduate degree in environmental & occupational health prepares you to think critically about complex challenges and to design solutions that improve public health. When you leave one of our programs, you’ll be ready to address emerging environmental and workplace issues in a way that builds on science while prioritizing real people. Our graduates work in environmental health and safety, emergency management, environmental epidemiology, and workplace safety and health in private, nonprofit, and government organizations.
This fall may look a little different, or a lot the same, compared to what we expected six months ago.
In June, it seemed that we were emerging into “normal” life from the pandemic. For many businesses, it was the first time they were able to welcome employees back to the office and gather with team members whom they may not have seen for months. Organizations were starting to plan and announce the rebirth of in-person conferences and travel.
News broke that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave the okay for vaccinated people to no longer wear masks indoors, even as COVID-19 vaccination rates grew across the country.
Then it seemed like overnight, it all shifted. The Delta variant gave rise to the fourth wave of COVID-19. As of September 2, all 50 states are maintaining high community transmission rates. Just like that, it feels like we are right back to asking ourselves the same questions we were last fall about what to do, whom to see, and how to work.
We face ongoing uncertainty as public health professionals work on the latest guidance. Schools are back in session and kids under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, return to big classrooms. Some businesses are requiring vaccination for workers and mask wear and others are not.
What questions are businesses and management teams asking TODAY that need answers?
The short answer is yes. Workplaces that provide access and mandates to vaccination provide the safest environments for workers. This is consistent with CDC guidance.
Organizations should continue monitoring operations to address safety protocols, ventilation, cleaning and disinfecting, and contact tracing. CDC provides workplace-specific guidance on COVID-19 safety measures.
Yes. To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possible transmission, workplaces should encourage or require vaccination and fully require all workers to wear a mask indoors.
Bill Gates predicted that more than 50% of business travel and more than 30% of days in the office will end permanently due to COVID-19. Employers and managers should consider travel based on vaccination status. CDC recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated. If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel, follow CDC’s recommendations for people who are not fully vaccinated.
Businesses should consider whether travel is essential to company operations. Worker safety must remain the number one priority and employers should have a plan for business travel that includes company-paid COVID-19 testing before and after travel. Employers should also supply personal protective equipment kits (masks, hand sanitizer gloves, sanitizing wipes). Consider a post-travel debrief to address any possible exposure and implications for work from home options or self-quarantine post-travel, if necessary.
State, local, and territorial governments may have travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements upon arrival. For up-to-date information and travel guidance, check the state or territorial and local health department for where you live, along your route, and where you are traveling to.
Employers may also inquire about personal travel plans, in a fair and equitable way, to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
The CDC announced in July that event planners may choose to verify COVID-19 vaccination status at the time of registration or entry to an event. It’s important that organizers follow all local, state, and federal regulations. Prevention strategies for in-person gatherings include promoting or requiring vaccination among attendees; preventing crowding by modifying layouts and attendance numbers, holding events outdoors; improving ventilation for indoor events; encouraging distancing; requiring attendees and event staff to wear masks correctly and consistently; and encouraging attendees and staff to stay home if they are sick or experience symptoms of COVID-19. More from the CDC here.
The safest workplaces are those where everyone is vaccinated. People should still monitor for symptoms—vaccinated people can still get infected (breakthrough infections) spread COVID-19. Masking is recommended for all individuals while indoors in areas of high or substantial transmission—which is essentially every jurisdiction at the moment.
It is certain that uncertainty will continue as the Delta variant case numbers rise. Personal considerations and flexibility remain key for all employers as we continue business this fall. Depending on individual circumstances, people may or may not feel comfortable with coming to the office or traveling due to underlying health conditions of their own or of someone they live with.
Written by Liliana Tenney, DrPH, MPH, Assistant Professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, Associate Director for Outreach at the Center for Health, Work & Environment.