Health experts explain potential 'new normal' for workplaces as North Carolina loosens restrictions

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As some states begin easing restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic and North Carolina positions itself to enter Phase 1 of loosening the state stay-at-home order in May, ABC11 took a look at what going back into the workplace could look like for some employees.

Health experts recommend companies continue to ask employees to telework, but when workers do return to offices, their workplaces might feel very different.

"There will be a new normal with a lot more attention to to hygiene, to cleaning, to separation and probably seeing a lot more people wearing face coverings or masks," said North Carolina State Health Director Dr. Betsy Tilson during a news conference. "I think things will be different."

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Health experts said temperatures may be taken with touchless thermometers, a practice some companies are already putting in place with certain county orders. Staggered employee access and newly mapped out desks for separation may also be recommended along with managed access into shared spaces like elevators to keep germ spreading down.

"They'll be a lot more focus on on handwashing on cleaning of surfaces and to keep continuing some social distancing, thinking about workplace separation between people be it a plastic barriers or other barrier," Tilson said. "So, it won't be the old normal."

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In addition to the simple public-health-recommended changes, technology can also assist in making the workplace safer. Estimote, a company headquartered in New York, specializes in workplace safety with wearable devices.

Estimote has been around about six years but their wearable technology has skyrocketed to the forefront of corporations' radars when they consider how to safeguard employees amid the COVID-19 crisis. Estimote is currently working with Ford's Michigan factory to test out their wrist device, which buzzes when employees get within six feet of each other to help enforce social distancing. "What we do with COVID-19 is we try to understand the relationship between different people," said Estimote co-founder Steve Cheney.

CORONAVIRUS MAP: Tracking COVID-19 across North Carolina

In North Carolina, according to the NC Manufacturing Extension Partnership, there were 7,763 manufacturing organizations in the state employing 10.56 percent of the total workforce, with a total output of $102.48 billion in 2017 alone. With COVID-19 shuttering factories, the techology could be another key piece of the puzzle to get manufacturing plants back open.

Tilson says the state's task force is continuously working on a statewide strategy on how and when to get people back to work safely. With health experts' guidance and technology, one thing is certain--it will be a much different workplace that it was less than two months ago.
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