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Should you return to work?

A woman wearing a mask and gloves stands outside another woman's office.

Not everyone has had the luxury of choosing whether to work or stay home during this pandemic. Many have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. Others have been asked to stay on the job doing essential work—and they deserve our thanks.

But if you have the option to work from home, you may face an important choice at some point: Should you go back to work in person when it's allowed?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. A lot depends on the particulars of your situation. But there are several things to consider in making your decision, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For example:

Are you or is someone you live with at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19? This may be the case if you or someone in your household has an underlying medical condition or is older, pregnant or a smoker. You may want to talk to your employer about options to reduce your risk, like continuing to work from home or changing your responsibilities at work.

How many people would you be in contact with daily? The more people you would interact with at work, and the more time you’d spend around them, the higher your risk for getting the coronavirus.

Are steps being taken to protect you at work? For example, is your employer requiring that everyone—staff and customers—wear a mask and keep at least 6 feet apart? Is protective equipment provided? Can virtual meetings replace in-person ones?

What are your childcare options? If you're thinking about sending your child back to school or daycare so you can work, consider what precautions are being taken there too to slow the spread of the virus. That will affect your family's overall risk.

Have you been exposed to the virus recently? For everyone's sake, it's safer to stay home, even if you don't have symptoms.

Back on the job?

If you do decide to go back to work in person, CDC offers the following tips for protecting yourself and others from the virus:

  • Keep an eye on your own health. If you develop a fever, cough, shortness of breath or other symptoms of COVID-19, let your employer know and call your doctor for guidance.
  • Wear a face mask.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others. Keep in mind that maintaining your distance does not replace the need to wear a mask—and vice versa.
  • Wash your hands regularly, especially after arriving at work, after touching your face or face mask, and when leaving work. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water aren't available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue if you cough or sneeze. If you don't have a tissue, use the inside of your elbow. Wash your hands afterward.
  • Avoid sharing items at work, such as desks, phones or other equipment. If you must use someone else's workstation, clean and disinfect it before and after use.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items. This includes keyboards, phones, handrails and doorknobs.

Want to learn more about preventing COVID-19? Visit our Coronavirus health topic center.

Reviewed 2/8/2021

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