Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday that employers need to have specific plans in place for how to safely return workers to the office or shop floor.
That could even mean conducting Zoom video calls in the office to avoid having large meetings, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration said on “Squawk Box.”
“In an office, you could split your employees, have half of them work at home, half of them come into the office on alternating days,” Gottlieb added. “You should continue to encourage telework where you can.”
Gottlieb said it’s more difficult to maintain social distancing in manufacturing plants and other commercial environments, so employers should accommodate personal protective equipment. “Let people wear masks if they want to.”
“People need break rooms. They need to come off the shop floor and go into a break room but you might want to have more breaks over the course of the day and stagger them more regularly, so that smaller groups can take breaks so you don’t have as much congregating,” he advised.
Companies with cafeterias should continue to operate it with added safety precautions, Gottlieb said. “You’re better off offering food inside the workplace than watching people go out to a corner deli where they might come into contact with more people and it’s harder to social distance.”
Businesses also need to have a clear response plan in place for workers who test positive “because there will be positive cases,” he said. “So you need to have plans in place for how they deal with that, how they do contract tracing in the workplace and get people access to testing.”
The comments from Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor who sits on the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina, come after the White House last week released broad new federal guidelines for easing up on social distancing measures imposed to combat the spread of Covid-19.
Some business leaders have argued the return to work will be a slow process that is dependent on the availability of Covid-19 testing. “Until we have adequate testing, rapid testing, it’s very hard to see how we’re going to reboot in the next 30 days,” BlackRock co-founder and CEO Larry Fink told CNBC last week.
Earlier Monday on NBC News, Gottlieb said he thinks it will be a few months before the U.S. has “broad” testing coverage. “We’re not going to be there in May, we’re not going to be there in June, hopefully we’ll be there by September,” he said on the “Today Show.”
Gottlieb said on “Squawk Box” he believes employers can play a role in potentially finding asymptomatic cases of Covid-19. He said he does not believe it will get to the point where employers test every single person, but he said it is crucial for employers to provide access to testing through partnerships with local facilities.
“It’s probably prudent coming off an epidemic to get as many people tested as possible if we have the resources, and the only way to facilitate testing for those kind of very mild, marginal cases, is to try and bring the testing to the work site,” he said. “They’re not going to present to a doctor, and I think we should be testing more broadly at least initially as we come away from this epidemic.”