ATLANTA — By the end of February, there were approximately 83,650 confirmed cases of COVIS-19, commonly called the coronavirus, in 52 countries, resulting in more than 2,850 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As the number of cases continues to grow and concern intensifies in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued recommendations for U.S. businesses to prepare for and to minimize possible disruption in the workplace from the health threat.
While only 59 cases and no deaths have been confirmed in the United States, the CDC has confirmed a case in California of a person who reportedly did not have relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient with the virus. This could be the first domestic instance of “community spread” of COVID-19, meaning the source of the infection is unknown.
- For daily updates, click here to view the WHO COVID-19 Situation Dashboard and click here to view the CDC COVID-19 Situation Summary.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a Feb. 26 press briefing. “I continue to hope that in the end we’ll look back and feel like we are overprepared, but that is a better place to be in than being underprepared.
“To date, our containment strategies have been largely successful,” she said. “As a result, we have very few cases in the United States and no spread in the community. But as more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder. Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”
Along with possible school closures and using “internet-based teleschooling” to limit expose for children and young adults, measures that Messonnier said should be considered to limit exposure for adults could include businesses replacing in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increasing telecommuting options. On a larger scale, communities may need to modify, postpone or cancel mass gatherings.
“Secondary consequences of some of these measures might include missed work and loss of income,” she said. “Disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.”
The CDC has issued guidance for businesses to plan for and respond to COVID-19 and recommends that they implement the following strategies immediately:
- Encourage sick employees to stay home until they are free of fever and other symptoms for at least 24 hours without medications. More employees than usual may need to stay home to care for sick children or other family members.
- Separate employees who appear to be sick upon arrival to work or become sick during the day and send them home immediately.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles.
- Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace in multiple locations. Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Display posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette and hand hygiene.
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs. Provide disposable wipes so that employees can wipe down commonly used surfaces.
- Advise employees to take certain steps before traveling, including checking the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country.
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For the foodservice industry, the National Restaurant Association has issued recommendations for helping restaurant operators protect customers and employees from the coronavirus, reported CSP Daily News’ sister publication Restaurant Business.
Among the best practices that the association cites are sending home any employees who have flu-like symptoms and providing extra tissues and napkins for customers to use for coughs or sneezes. The guidelines also recommend making alcohol-based hand sanitizers available for both customers and staff and sanitizing any surfaces that could have been contaminated.
The association also stresses that safety protocols should be followed closely in the event of what it calls a “bodily fluid event.” Should a patron or employee vomit or suffer a bout of diarrhea on the premises, the area of possible contamination should be isolated and sanitized, with staff members donning personal protection equipment for the cleanup.
Resources for Businesses
- CDC: Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020
- WHO: Getting Your Workplace Ready for COVID-19
- National Restaurant Association: Coronavirus: What Can You Do?
- NRF: Coronavirus Resources for Retailers (Members Only)
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