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Employee break rooms a haven for coffee, conversation and maybe coronavirus

Famartin/Wikimedia Commons

Employee break rooms can be danger zones when it comes to the coronavirus. Public health officials warn that the nature of the space and our behavior when we go on break make the spread of the virus more likely in a break room. Vance Kawakami is an epidemiologist with Public Health – Seattle & King County and has investigated outbreaks in workplaces, including at retail stores.


He said one of the main things we’ve learned about the coronavirus is that it tends to spread between people in “indoor spaces where there’s poor ventilation.” And, he said, indoor spaces with poor ventilation perfectly describes a lot of workplace break rooms. Add to that the fact that on a lunch or coffee break we’re not strictly following the same protocols we do when we’re doing our job.


“When you’re in a break room, people are tending to eat and drink and you’re not wearing a mask. People tend to talk and socialize, and you tend to let down your guard a little bit. That’s what break rooms are set up for,” Kawakami said.


He said businesses can make the break room a little less convivial by taking out chairs and tables and staggering break times to limit the number of people using the space at any one time. He said some grocery and retail stores have set up outdoor areas for workers on break to use. In some workplaces, employees are asked to grab their food and take it to their car to eat.


He said the public health agency encourages businesses to work with their employees to look for ways to make the break room a safer place to be during the pandemic.

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Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.