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Coronavirus Preparation: What You Need to Know

Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Written By
Jamie Nelson
Senior Content Attorney & Market Analyst

As the number of reported cases of COVID-19 rises, the possibility of an outbreak in your city or workplace continues to escalate. You and your clients may be starting to worry about what to do in the event of a worst-case scenario.

This article breaks down what you and your clients should know about COVID-19 and what steps you can take to keep employees safe.

What is the Coronavirus?

The coronavirus is a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Common signs of infection include headache, fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and breathing difficulties.

In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. Those who are elderly or have a pre-existing condition are at the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill from the coronaviruses.

How Does the Coronavirus Spread?

Although the ongoing coronavirus outbreak is believed to be caused by people who were exposed to infected animals, COVID-19 can be spread between people through respiratory secretions, especially when they cough or sneeze. The incubation period for COVID-19 is believed to be from two to 14 days.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the spread of COVID-19 from person-to-person most likely occurs among close contacts who are within about 6 feet of each other. It is also possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.

However, since this is such a new virus, there is still much to learn about its transmission, the severity of the illness, its causes and mortality rate.

What Employers Can Do to Protect to Their Workplace

There are a number of steps you and your clients can take to address the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace, including the following:

  • Actively encourage employees to stay home if they have signs or symptoms, and give employees the flexibility to work remote, if possible. Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of signs of a fever and any other symptoms of COVID-19 for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or symptom-altering medication. You may also consider requiring employees to provide medical documentation that states they can safely return to work.

  • Promote hand hygiene. Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to reduce the spread of germs.

  • Perform regular workplace cleaning. Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, café or lunch rooms, and doorknobs. Consider offering free cleaning wipes throughout the office to encourage employees to clean items at their desk like their laptop and mouse, which can harbor lots of germs.

  • Closely monitor the CDC, WHO, and state and local public health department websites for the latest information on the status of the coronavirus. Consider appointing a single individual or department as the point of contact within your organization for employee questions about the virus.

  • Proactively educate employees on what is known about the virus, including its transmission and prevention. Educate them on common misconceptions and myths that might be circulating as well to make sure they have the most accurate information possible. This is also a good time to remind employees about their health benefits and alternative care options like telehealth services.

  • Establish a written communicable illness policy and response plan that covers communicable disease like the coronavirus in the workplace. In addition, you should review safety programs and emergency action plans to ensure that they include infection-disease protocols.

  • Consider canceling business travel to affected geographic areas and request employees notify you if they are traveling to these areas for personal reasons.

Avoiding Discrimination

As with any workplace policy, it is essential that employers be cautious to prevent inadvertent discrimination when it comes to coronavirus prevention. Discriminating against employees or asking illegal health-related questions can introduce a host of legal concerns, so make sure whatever policy your company decides to pursue is equally enforced in the workplace.

Stay in the Know

It is important to remember that the COVID-19 situation evolves and changes every day. Unfortunately, there is no known vaccine for COVID-19, making precaution that much more critical.

For more information, visit our COVID-19 Resource Center, which is full of free, downloadable compliance, HR and employee-facing content you can share with your staff, clients and any others you see fit. These resources will be continually updated in the days and weeks to come.

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