Ochsner’s COVID-19 study shows which types of workplaces may be at higher risk for coronavirus cases

Updated: Sep. 9, 2020 at 3:23 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Months into the pandemic, we know our homes are the safest shelters from catching or spreading coronavirus, but Ochsner’s recent study shows the office isn’t that scary of a space either.

“Even if there was an instance and there was a really bad outbreak or something and we needed to shut things down again, office work, to me, is not the high risk area,” said Dr. Amy Freehan.

Dr. Freehan helped lead Ochsner’s research on COVID-19 in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. She says one encouraging discovery is your office workspace isn’t as risky as you may think.

“You’re mitigating your risk by seeing the same coworkers, you’re mostly sitting in a desk, you’re not interacting with the public, so office work, generally speaking, mitigates the risk on its own," she said.

Now this is compared to what the study calls “public-facing jobs” such as retail, restaurants, bars, and delivery.

“With public-facing jobs, you have the variable of the public coming through, so that’s just naturally going to be a higher risk situation I think,” said Dr. Freehan.

The researcher says masks, social distancing, and proper hand-washing help make all workspaces safer, but those with public-facing jobs are at a higher risk of testing positive for COVID-19 compared to the office workers.

That’s why adding COVID screening procedures to your daily routine can help catch a positive case in the workplace. Dr. Freehan found one particular symptom can help.

“This one that stands out is anosmia, or the loss of smell and taste. You’re actually eight times more likely to test positive if you reported lost of smell and taste," she said.

Some symptoms, like aches and pains, can stem from other issues, but the loss of smell and taste seems to be a signature symptom to COVID-19.

“We know that’s a big heavy hitter of catching people who are positive,” said Dr. Freehan.

Keeping a watchful eye on people in the workplace who show this symptom could be another way to keep the workspace safe.

Dr. Freehan mentioned a salon she goes to checks for this symptom when you walk in the door.

“They have a little cup that has holes in the top and it either has vinegar or whisky or something inside of it and they’ll say, ‘Can you tell me what this smell is?’” Dr. Freehan said.

If you can’t smell what’s in the cup, then it might be time to leave the workplace and go home.

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