As an increasing number of Coronavirus cases are confirmed across the United States, many businesses are asking what action they need to take immediately and what will be necessary if the epidemic becomes more severe. To keep employees, their families and your local communities safe, and to mitigate against business disruption, employers must prepare—rather than panic. Even if Coronavirus is successfully controlled, it’s crucial for businesses to have a plan in place in case of any future pandemic.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses responsible for a variety of illnesses, including both common colds and more severe diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The current outbreak, officially named COVID-19, was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
What are the Symptoms of Coronavirus?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the key symptoms of Coronavirus, appearing 2 to 14 days after exposure, are:
- Shortness of breath
While most infected only experience mild symptoms, more severe cases can lead to pneumonia.
How Does Coronavirus Spread?
It is thought that the virus spreads from person-to-person, from close contact (within around 6 feet) or from viral droplets released by coughing and sneezing. It may also be possible to be infected by touching an object or surface where a viral droplet has landed, and then touching one’s own mouth, nose or eyes.
How Can Coronavirus be Prevented?
While there is currently no vaccine available, the CDC suggests many best practices to avoid the spread of the disease:
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth
- When sick, stay at home
- Avoid contact with those who are sick
- When coughing or sneezing, use a tissue (or the crook of your elbow)
- Wash your hands with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, regularly
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
Why is Coronavirus Different than Ordinary Flu?
Though there are similarities in the symptoms of ordinary flu and COVID-19, some key differences make it potentially far more dangerous. According to the New York Times, the mortality rate of seasonal flu is around 0.1%, while the mortality rate of COVID-19 is thought to be considerably higher, perhaps above 1%.
Similarly, it is possible that COVID-19 is more infectious than ordinary flu. A crucial difference is that as there is currently no vaccine, it is harder to protect the most vulnerable, particularly the old. That’s why it’s so important to slow the spread of the virus however possible.
How Can Businesses Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus?
Even if your business does not operate in the vicinity of any reported cases, there are steps that employers can take immediately.
- Maintain Standards of Cleanliness
Regularly clean all office surfaces and objects. Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer, tissues and disposable wipes. Educate employees, especially about official recommendations for hand hygiene. (However, you should be doing all of this even when there isn’t an epidemic!)
- Send Sick Employees Home
If an employee shows signs of fever or respiratory illness, encourage them to stay home and not come to work until all symptoms have been absent for at least 24 hours. If symptoms arise while an employee is at work, try to ensure they are separated from their co-workers.
Your leave policies should be consistent with public health guidance and if possible should be updated to be non-punitive, so as not to incentivize coming to work while sick. This should also be true for any agencies who provide your business with temporary staff.
- Encourage Social Distancing
As the virus appears to spread primarily through proximity to infected persons, it is good practice to avoid unnecessary closeness in workplace. If it possible for employees to sit further apart or even to work from home, this should be encouraged, especially for particularly vulnerable people: those who are elderly, pregnant or immunocompromised or live with those who are.
To enable this, reduce unnecessary meetings/large gatherings and ensure all employees (in industries where this is possible) are equipped with software allowing them to ‘tele-commute’.
- Track Recent and Future Travel
If an employee has recently returned from a region with high risk of Coronavirus (currently China, South Korea, Iran and Italy), consider allowing them to work from home till 14 days have passed since their return.
Keep track of all international travel by employees, in case of further outbreaks elsewhere. When planning business travel, check the CDC’s latest travel advice.
- Keep Employees Informed
During epidemics, rumors can spread fast and employers should provide employees with accurate information to avoid false panics. Ensure that you are able to communicate with all employees directly, to immediately inform them of any important updates.
Employers should stay informed by regularly consulting the CDC’s latest Coronavirus updates and guidance for businesses.
- Create/Update a Pandemic Preparedness Plan
In the event of the Coronavirus outbreak become more severe, or in case of any future pandemic, businesses should prepare plans establishing possible action that can be taken to ensure employee safety while reducing business disruption.
What Should a Pandemic Preparedness Plan Include?
Planning for a pandemic—whether Coronavirus or any other—requires establishing essential and non-essential parts of your business. How resilient is your business to increased absences? Remember, employees will not only be absent due to their own sickness, but that of their relatives and may well also have increased childcare responsibilities due to the closure of daycare facilities and K-12 schools.
Who are the critical employees upon whom your business relies day-to-day? In the event of an office closure, are they able to work from home? And if they are sick, do they have colleagues capable of stepping up into their roles? You may also have to consider the resiliency of your supply chains and possible alternatives should they fail.
Additionally, you should be clear when any plan will be put into action. It could be the moment a pandemic is declared, when a virus case confirmed in the vicinity of your business or only when a staff member shows symptoms. Whenever possible, decisions should be made prior to the event.
There are Coronaviruses Cases in Our City. What Now?
Your response to a local Coronavirus outbreak will likely depend on your business needs. In industries where remote work is possible, it may be advisable to simply close your offices and encourage all employees to work from home.
In industries where remote work is not possible, it’s essential that sick employees do not feel obligated to go to work. Remind them that the importance of staying home is about preventing spreading the disease to others. If necessary, a temporary adjustment to your leave policy may be required.
Most importantly, business should always follow advice set out by the CDC and other government agencies.
What if Employees Have a Sick Relative at Home?
If employees discover that a family member has been infected by Coronavirus, consult the CDC risk assessment criteria for the next steps to take.
Should Businesses Check Employees’ Temperatures?
According to EEOC guidance, it is legal to take workers temperatures in the event of a pandemic, as the virus could pose a “direct threat” to the health of others. However, it is not necessarily recommended. It could easily cause long delays and harm employee relations for little benefit.
Bear in mind that medical experts warn that so-called “thermometer guns” (infrared forehead thermometers) are often unreliable and even if an employee is proved to have fever, that does not imply they have Coronavirus. Similarly, the absence of fever does not mean that an employee is healthy.
Employers Are Embracing Work from Home Policies
As of this writing, more than 35 U.S. states have reported cases of coronavirus. In response, many employers are adopting risk reduction strategies and encouraging employees to work from home.
Paycor Can Help Facilitate Remote Work:
Employees can punch in and out on our mobile app from home.
Employees can receive emails and push notifications on shift updates and changes while working from home.
Fully customizable group chat allows you to attach documents and to communicate with pre-selected teams (e.g., all employees or all managers, etc.).