Returning to the office after months of lockdown may bring an unexpected risk for workers. According to the New York Times, the CDC recently closed some of its Atlanta offices after finding that its water sources contained Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease.
The bacteria can grow in stagnant water systems, including plumbing and air conditioning units. After a prolonged absence, inhaled vapors from flushing toilets, running taps or restarted air conditioners can carry Legionella into the lungs.
While older individuals with lung conditions are most vulnerable, Legionnaire’s pneumonia carries a 10 percent fatality rate—leading the CDC to publish reopening guidelines for building operators that include flushing long-dormant systems with heated water and additional disinfectant in advance of reopening, and the suggestion that at-risk individuals should wear an N95 respirator or facepiece when aerosol generation is likely. (Unsurprisingly, the guidelines have been criticized as overly vague and lacking prescriptive advice.)
As if we all didn’t have enough to worry about, don’t forget to bring a N95 mask for any bathroom breaks during your first day back at the office! (Or maybe just hold it.)