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Space Alterations and Barriers for SARS-CoV-2

Employees may work in a wide range of shared spaces. Modified space layouts and barriers may provide an additional layer of protection; however, they should not be the first consideration for your shared spaces and public-facing operations. Prior to considering space alteration and barriers, you must prioritize and consider the following:

  • DO eliminate the risk by controlling and reducing density. Reduce the number of people in a room to allow for a minimum of 6 feet of distance between people. Currently, no more than 50% of occupancy should be present in a space.
  • DO stay home if an employee can work from home.
  • DO wear face coverings, perform routine disinfection, and always practice good hygiene.

This guidance is meant to enable conversation about a variety of barriers that may be deployed in various spaces across the Cornell University community. Engage Cornell EHS to assist in the deployment of barriers which may not be considered in this guidance. Barriers are one component of an effective strategy to reduce community spread of infectious disease and must be combined with distancing, consistent use of face coverings, and elevated hygiene standards. In most situations, the use of a barrier does not replace the use of a face covering.

Barriers for Community Interaction

Plexiglass or acrylic barriers are an engineering control that may be used as an additional strategy to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission on campus. Barriers are appropriate in a variety of situations, including public areas, retail settings, reception areas, and spaces where it is difficult to maintain 6 feet of separation between individuals. Plexiglass barriers are intended to provide a barrier between persons during interactions thus reducing the chance of a person to person spread. This guidance document is to provide performance standards for plexiglass barriers and guidance on the prioritization of location where such barriers should be installed on campus

Plexiglass Barrier Example
Example of Minimum Performance Standard in Practice *Breathing zone is outlined in white dotted line, with 12-inch radius (Eykelbosh, Physical Barriers for COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control in Commercial Settings 2020)

Performance Standards

  1. When materials are selected to build a barrier for customer-service or teaching applications they need to be constructed and secured in a manner so they can be cleaned and disinfected periodically.

  2. Plexiglass barriers are to be tall and wide enough to protect an individual whether they are standing or sitting during face-to-face interactions under normal circumstances of their operation.

  3. Barriers will be unique depending on the location and operation where they are installed. The intent of barriers is to protect the user’s breathing zone, approximately a circle with a 12-inch radius extending from the mid-point between a person’s ears

  4. Barriers should be large enough to protect both parties interacting for the entire interaction – there should be no need to step around a barrier.

  5. The height of a barrier should be greater than or equal to six feet tall where feasible. Barrier height includes the height of the countertop, desk, or other surfaces where the barrier is installed.

  6. Barriers width should be greater than or equal to twenty-six inches where feasible.

  7. Barriers shall be constructed and secured in a manner that they do not create a danger to barrier users.

    • Any barriers installed shall not impede the means of egress for a space.
    • Any barriers installed shall not block any fire protection features, including, but not limited to smoke detectors, sprinkler heads, CO detectors, fire extinguishers, manual pull stations.
    • For areas covered by sprinklers, 18” below the head
    • For areas not covered by sprinklers, 24” below the ceiling
  8. Plastic barriers secured to walls shall not exceed 10% of the wall area. (FCNYS 804.1)
  9. Materials shall comply with NFPA 286, ASTM  E84, or UL 723. (FCNYS 804.1.1/804.1.2). Please contact Environment, Health and Safety for fire code-related questions.
  10. Slots may be cut in the bottom of the barrier to allow for efficient operations, however, slots or opening should never be cut in the breathing zone.

Barrier Prioritization Table

Plexiglass Barriers in the Workplace
Prioritization Level Area Description

High

Areas of high frequency and a high volume of contact with members of the public, students, and lack of other controls. Examples include:
 
  • Foodservice, e.g. cashiers, serving counters
  • Higher volume retail cashier lanes
  • Higher volume screening and check-in areas, e.g. medical facilities, the first point of entry
  • Ticketing/transportation desks or kiosks
  • Higher volume reception or information desks
  • Higher volume transportation shuttles and buses

 Medium

Areas of frequent contact with members of the public, students, or coworkers, and lack of other controls. Examples include:
 
  • Lower volume reception, information, and administrative stations
  • Open work areas with close proximity workstations where distancing is not feasible, lack other barriers, or other lack of controls
  • Lower volume retail locations
  • Transportation vehicles, including research vessels

Low

Areas that do not require contact with the public, students, or coworkers. Examples include:
 
  • Lower volume and lower density offices where social/physical distance
  • Areas with other installed engineering controls that are as effective or more effective than plexiglass barriers

(University of Washington EH&S, Guidance for Plexiglass Barriers in the Workplace, Prioritization Table 2020)

Barriers for Offices

  • DO eliminate the risk. Reduce the number of people in a room to allow an empty desk or 6 feet between desks. Currently, no more than 50% of staff should be present in a space. If an employee can work from home, work should be done by telecommuting.
  • DO have barriers which provide an additional layer of protection to minimize community spread. A cubicle can be constructed for single-person occupancy with three walls. The side walls should be sufficiently-sized to prevent close contact between adjacent workspaces
    • If a workspace is ‘shared’ – no walls – personnel must remain masked, 6 feet apart from one another
    • A wall can be used to ‘shorten’ the distance between persons – the wall should be a minimum of 5 feet from the floor to the top of the wall. 
      • If there is a person using a standing desk or some other atypical arrangement. Those will have to be solved on a case-by-case basis.

If both conditions above are met, the person sitting at a desk would not need to wear a mask. They need to mask if standing or walking around a common space.

If the statements above cannot be met, the person sitting at the desk must wear a mask. Persons using standing desks in a communal setting will need to use a mask while standing.

Individual colleges are responsible for designating spaces, with signage, for the consumption of food and beverage or relief from masks. At a minimum, social distancing must be maintained. Persons in single-occupant offices or cubicles may consume food and drink within that space. Sharing food and drink is highly discouraged.

 

Examples of acceptable cubicles/workspaces

Office showing high cubicle walls

Tall barriers mitigate the spread of droplets and aerosols.

Tall barriers provide protection for a single person in a cubicle.

Tall barriers provide protection for a single person.

Example of another acceptable seating arrangement for one person.

Example of another acceptable seating arrangement for one person.

What not to do

As barriers are placed around workspaces, keep partition tops 18-24 inches away from ceilings to allow proper air circulation and fire safety.

  • Don’t place desk and person closer than 6 feet

  • Don’t use dividers shorter than 5 feet
  • Don’t have an open layout without dividers
 

Photos/cubicles which do not permit appropriate community protection

Cubicle without social distancing

Open layout/shared cubicles do not provide enough room to distance from other persons. Remove extra chairs to encourage distancing

Low barriers provide no protection. Extra seating does not allow social distancing.

Low barriers provide no protection. Extra seating does not allow social distancing

A second example where low barriers and communal seating do not permit social distancing.

A second example where low barriers and communal seating do not permit social distancing.

An example where no barriers and communal seating do not permit social distancing.

An example where no barriers and communal seating do not permit social distancing.

More Information

  • Eykelbosh, Angela. Physical Barriers for COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control in Commercial Settings. 13 May 2020, ncceh.ca/content/blog/physical-barriers-covid-19-infection-prevention-and-control-commercial-settings.

  • “Guidance for Plexiglass Barriers in the Workplace (Updated June 15, 2020).” University of Washington, Environmental Health & Safety, 4 June 2020.