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CDC Recommends Big Changes to Office Life

Health + Wellness
CDC Recommends Big Changes to Office Life
The office of Rover.com sits empty with employees working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12 in Seattle, Washington. John Moore / Getty Images

The office may never look the same again. And the investment it will take to protect employees may force many companies to go completely remote. That's after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommendations for how workers can return to the office safely.


If companies choose to follow the guidelines, it would lead to a dramatic change in the corporate work experience, and likely increase pollution. One of the most striking features of the recommendations is that they upend years of environmental activism that urged people to take public transportation or car-pool. The new recommendations suggest avoiding public transportation and driving to work alone, as The New York Times reported.

The CDC's new recommendations suggest making this cost-effective. "Offer employees incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others, such as offering reimbursement for parking for commuting to work alone or single-occupancy rides," the guidelines say.

However, the guidelines did not address the environmental impact of such policies or the health impacts from increasing traffic congestion.

Besides making the commute a lonelier and less environmentally friendly, the guidelines also make the office environment lonelier. The CDC recommends placing workers six feet apart. If that's not possible, then companies should erect plastic shields around desks, remove seats in common areas, and avoid perks like coffee machines and snack bins that encourage communal activities and many people touching them, according to The New York Times.

In another environmentally damaging recommendation, the CDC does leave room for replacing those items with pre-packaged single-serve coffee and snacks.

"Replace high-touch communal items, such as coffee pots, water coolers, and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as prepackaged, single-serving items," the guidelines say.

The guidelines also address the technical aspects of the office. The CDC recommends employers ensure that building ventilation systems are operating properly. It also encourages allowing as much fresh air as possible by opening windows and doors, when feasible, to "increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible," as Fox News reported.

The guidelines also eliminate many office norms and pleasantries that were once common place. The guidelines tell employers to "[p]rohibit handshaking, hugs, and fist bumps." It also recommends that employees wear a cloth face mask "in all areas of the business," as Axios reported.

The guidelines encourage daily health checks, including temperature screenings before employees enter the workplace, and to send home sick workers. Then the office should go through enhanced cleaning and disinfection, as Axios reported.

The New York Times noted that many white-collar offices have successfully transitioned to a fully distributed workforce and are finding that their office environment is able to continue through video conferencing and Slack channels. With that in mind, companies might find the cost of putting protective measures in place too steep, or they might find that isolation in the office makes it difficult to recruit and retain talent. Businesses may decide to allow their workers to stay home.

Already companies like Twitter and Square have decided that their employees never need to come back to the office.

"Companies, surprisingly, don't want to go back to work," said Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a nonprofit think tank, to The New York Times. "You will not see the drum beat and hue and cry and rush to get back to the office."

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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