While the world is closely monitoring the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19, an epidemic respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, businesses are quickly creating plans and procedures to protect their staff. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and in animals. However, these viruses are rarely seen to travel from an infected animal to a human, as is the case for COVID-19. As of March 10, a total of 45 States Parties have reported cases of COVID-19, resulting in 113,702 confirmed cases and 4,012 deaths. While researchers are moving quickly to create criteria for diagnosis and treatment, there is still a lot that’s unknown about this particular virus. Researchers know that humans can infect other humans through infected droplets, like we see in a sneeze or cough, but the complete clinical understanding of the virus is unknown. While older adults is the population most at risk, many businesses are taking precautions to keep people healthy and minimize the risk of spreading the virus.
Current Risk Assessment
Virus outbreaks are always a risk to the public, especially new viruses that aren’t fully understood. To date, the severity of COVID-19 has varied greatly from very mild symptoms to severe illness including death. Older adults and those with preexisting health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, or comprised immune systems, are most at risk. While the virus is not wide spread in most communities in the United States, healthcare workers and international travelers have a greater chance of exposure to COVID-19.
How to Keep Your Workplace Safe
As you create your organization’s strategy to cope with COVID-19, it’s important to communicate information calmly, without causing chaos or inflicting fear. To create a plan that is robust and intentional you should consider the following:
- If your business interacts with older adults regularly, such as a retirement community or geriatric healthcare facility, you should consider limiting outside guests, especially those who have been travelling.
- Ensure employees have the resources they need to do their work from home.
- Review any existing policies and confirm that employees will not be personally impacted in the event of an extended quarantine.
- Evaluate your staffing needs and create a plan of action if you are required to operate your services with minimal staff.
- Cross-train employees for key functions so daily tasks and responsibilities can be covered.
- Identify key employees and communicate their roles effectively to other staff. Employees should know how to answer or direct questions from outside parties, such as the media.
Educate Your Employees
While there’s still unknown information about the virus, there are precautions employees can take to keep your organization secure. When possible, communicate the following calmly but consistently:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched, like a door handle, computer keyboard, or desk top phone.
- If you are sick, do not come to work.
The way an organization chooses to respond to these types of public health concerns is crucial to its success and the safety of its employees. Not only is it critical to develop an interruption plan, but also to ensure its adequate implementation. The way the plan is communicated and modeled by senior leadership can majorly impact its effect.