Preventing the spread of infection

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.

There are general principles anyone can follow to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • Washing your hands often – with soap and water, or use alcohol sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol if hand washing facilities are not available – this is particularly important after taking public transport. Guidance is available on hand washing
  • covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in a bin. See Catch It, Bin It, Kill It
  • people who feel unwell should stay at home and should not attend work
  • employees should wash their hands:
  • before leaving home
  • on arrival at work
  • after using the toilet
  • after breaks and sporting activities
  • before food preparation
  • before eating any food, including snacks
  • before leaving work
  • on arrival at home
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • if staff are worried about their symptoms or those of a family member or colleague, please call NHS 111. They should not go to their GP or other healthcare environment
  • see further information and the Public Health England Blog and the NHS UK page

Guidance on facemasks

During normal day-to-day activities facemasks do not provide protection from respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19 and do not need to be worn by staff in any of these settings. Facemasks are only recommended to be worn by infected individuals when advised by a healthcare worker, to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to other people. It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.

PHE recommends that the best way to reduce any risk of infection for anyone is good hygiene and avoiding direct or close contact (within 2 metres) with any potentially infected person.

What to do if an employee becomes unwell and believe they have been exposed to COVID-19

If the staff, member of the public or resident has not been to specified areas in the last 14 days, then normal practice should continue.

If staff, member of the public or resident becomes unwell in the workplace and has travelled to China or other affected countries, the unwell person should be removed to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people. If possible find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a shut door, such as a staff office. If it is possible to open a window, do so for ventilation.

The individual who is unwell should call NHS 111 from their mobile, or 999 if an emergency (if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk) and explain which country they have returned from in the last 14 days and outline their current symptoms. If the person affected is not able for any reason to call NHS 111 themselves then a staff member should call on their behalf.

Whilst they wait for advice from NHS 111 or an ambulance to arrive, they should remain at least 2 metres from other people. They should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and be advised to cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in a bag then throw the tissue in the bin. If they don’t have any tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.

If they need to go to the bathroom whilst waiting for medical assistance, they should use a separate bathroom if available. This will apply only to the period of time while waiting for transport to hospital.

Closure of the office or workplace or residential setting and other actions if staff, members of the public or residents are undergoing COVID-19 testing and they have been in the office, workplace or residential setting

No restrictions or special control measures are required in these settings while a member of staff or resident is waiting for laboratory test results for COVID19. In particular, there is no need to close or send staff home at this point. As a precautionary measure, the NHS are currently testing a very large number of people who have travelled back from affected countries, the vast majority of whom test negative. Therefore, until the outcome of test results is known there is no action that needs to be taken.

What to do if someone with confirmed COVID-19 has recently been in the office, workplace or residential setting

Closure of the office, workplace or residential setting is not recommended.

The management team of the office or workplace or residential setting will be contacted by the Public Health England (PHE) local Health Protection Team to discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with them and advise on actions that should be taken.

An assessment of each setting will be undertaken by PHE’s local Health Protection Team with the lead responsible person. Advice on the management of staff, members of the public or residents will be based on this assessment.

The Health Protection Team will also be in contact with the case directly to advise on isolation and identifying other contacts and will be in touch with any contacts of the case to provide them with appropriate advice.

Advice on cleaning of communal areas such as offices or toilets will be given by the Health Protection Team and is outlined later in this document.

What to do if someone in the office, workplace or residential setting has had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19

If a confirmed case is identified in this setting, the local Health Protection Team will provide the relevant people with advice. It is important to follow the advice of the local Health Protection Team

Contacts are not considered cases and if they are well they are very unlikely to spread the infection to others:

  • those who have had close contact will be asked to self-isolate at home or in their own room in a care or residential home for 14 days from the last time they had contact with the confirmed case and follow the home isolation advice sheet
  • they will be actively followed up by the Health Protection Team

People who have not had close contact with the confirmed case do not need to take any precautions and can continue their routines as usual.