The Coronavirus Is Here. Learn How to Prepare & Protect Your Business

David Cribb | Mar 10, 2020 | minute read

Since the discovery of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) was first reported back in December 2019, the world has panicked about how the virus will impact individuals, communities, and the global economy. With reports of the virus now confirmed in multiple U.S. cities including several in California, it is clear the spread of the virus does pose a very real threat to citizens of the U.S. 

As public authorities plan to take decisive action in response to the emerging health threat, businesses must reconsider strategies to manage and mitigate the impact this virus will undoubtedly have on employees, customers, and operations.

In today’s article, we’ll take an in-depth look at coronavirus (COVID-19) and share insights to help businesses manage and mitigate the risk associated with this new virus.

What is the Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are part of a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

These coronaviruses are common in humans, as well as many species of animals. Its symptoms are very close to common seasonal viruses like the flu, which can make it difficult to detect when a new strain arrives.

A new highly contagious and potentially deadly strain of the Coronavirus, which had not been identified in humans previously, was reported in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019. This new Coronavirus was named the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. 

Since its discovery in December 2019, the virus has spread to every continent except Antarctica, and has infected more than 100,000, which led to the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

The World Health Organization has updated the name of the virus from 2019 Novel Coronavirus to SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes to COVID-19.  

How Coronavirus CONVID-19 is Spread

The new Coronavirus is thought to be spread through respiratory droplets, which can travel up to six feet from an infectious person who sneezes or coughs, or by touching surfaces that were touched by an infectious person, and then touching your nose, eyes, or mouth.

While definitive data on how long the new coronavirus can survive on surfaces isn’t yet available, based on data from other coronavirus, such as SARS, it may live for up to two days at room temperatures. 

New reports from a study of stool samples of those diagnosed with COVID-19 show that the infection may also spread through feces, increasing the chance of infection from contaminated surfaces with stool residue.

The Symptoms of Coronavirus COVID-19

Typically, the signs or symptoms of a COVID-19 infection appear two to fourteen days after exposure. Common signs of infection include:

Sick young woman

  • Cough
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Respiratory symptoms

In more severe cases, a COVID-19 infection can cause:

  • Pneumonia
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome
  • Kidney failure
  • Death

The Difference Between COVID-19 and Cold or Flu Symptoms

The main difference between COVID-19 and cold or flu symptoms is that symptoms start peaking 2 to 3 days after exposure, and the list for common seasonal illnesses is longer and includes:

  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Watery Eyes
  • Fever
  • Muscle or body aches (flu only)
  • Fatigue (flu only)
  • Headaches (flu only)
  • Nausea (children with flu only)
  • Diarrhea (children with flu only)

Treating Coronavirus COVID-19

Unfortunately, no drugs, vaccines or standard treatments have proven effective against the new strain of coronavirus, but experimental treatments are being explored on almost every continent. 

If you have a fever, and are experiencing a cough or shortness of breath, you should seek medical attention immediately. The CDC advises you to call your doctor’s office or medical facility before seeking medical attention.

How to Prepare Your Business for the Coronavirus COVID-19

Many companies have business continuity plans in place, but they might not prove as effective when facing the unique challenges of a coronavirus outbreak. We recommend reviewing your existing plans and making the appropriate adjustments and updates needed to face the unique challenges that may arise from a viral outbreak.

Preparation starts with prevention. The CDC has recommended strategies to help your business prepare for the coronavirus including:
  • Update sick leave policies to be more flexible: If your policy is not flexible, it is more likely sick employees will not feel they can stay home. Make it clear employees displaying symptoms of respiratory illness should remain home until they are free of symptoms and fever of 100.4° F or over which must be confirmed using an oral thermometer.

    Those sick must stop showing symptoms without the need for medications that reduce fever or alter symptoms such as cold medications and cough suppressants for 24-hours. Share this information with companies who provide you with temporary employees, so they ensure they are not sending people with symptoms to your place of business.

  • Do not request doctors’ notes: If your policy requires sick employees to provide a doctor’s note, let them know this is no longer the case for employees with acute respiratory illness. With the number of people seeking medical attention, it might not be possible to obtain a note. 

  • Allow employees to care for sick family members: The number of employees that need to care for loved ones can rise, so be more flexible to allow this when required. These employees should be instructed on doing a risk assessment before returning to work, as they will be exposed to the virus.

  • Separate sick employees: If employees have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) they should be separated from co-workers and sent home right away. Advise employees to cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing using a tissue or their elbow or shoulder. Use posters to demonstrate proper etiquette and provide tissues and no-touch receptacles for discarding used tissues.

  • Hand Hygiene: Encourage employees to use hand hygiene. Provide hygiene dispensers at your work entry as well as elevators, conference and lunchrooms. Also, instruct employees to wash their hands often either with alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60-95% alcohol, or soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

  • Keep the workspace clean: Perform routine environmental cleaning, including all workstations, countertops, and doorknobs using cleaning agents that remove viruses. As well, provide employees with disposable wipes so they can wipe down surfaces before using common equipment or working in shared areas.

  • Provide travel advice: Share the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices to help keep employees informed of special travel instructions. This should include employees checking for symptoms before they travel so they can stay home if they are sick. If employees become ill when traveling, they should inform their supervisor and seek healthcare advice immediately. Update your policy for employees seeking medical care when traveling on your behalf and provide information for each employee regarding seeking care for the specific countries they are visiting.

Coworkers training at work

One of the most important plans to address is increasing employee absences. There are several proactive steps you can take to help deal with this issue including:
  • Assess your essential functions so you can identify ways you can ensure your essential business needs are met if absenteeism rises.
  • Cross-train personnel so you have more people on staff able to perform essential functions.
  • Look at ways to streamline your business practices in order to operate more effectively with reduced staff such as looking at alternative suppliers, customer prioritization and what, if any operations might be suspended if the need arises.
  • Identify potential issues if you have multiple locations and an outbreak becomes more prominent in specific communities ensuring there is coordination with state and local health officials to keep up to date on local information.
  • Speak to local temp agencies to help ramp up a team in case you are short-staffed.
Employers should have a plan in place to help decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19 in their workplace should an outbreak occur in the U.S. Your plan should address:
  • How to reduce transmission among staff.
  • How to protect people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications.
  • How to maintain effective business operations.
  • How to minimize the negative effects from businesses in your supply chains.
In order to prepare an effective plan, decisions must be made on the following:
  • The severity of the disease in your immediate community.
  • How many employees would be considered more vulnerable to the disease and at higher risk for complications including older staff members and people with chronic medical conditions.
  • Managing the business with high numbers of employee absences.
  • Review and update your business continuity plan.

How to Create a Plan for a COVID-19 Outbreak

A full plan to cover all potential operational and staffing issues should include the following:

  • Make sure you have someone assigned to remaining informed and checking in with national, state, and local health officials so you remain up to date on the latest virus-related news.
  • Share updates with staff, especially information involving how the disease is spread, or changes to symptoms, as well as local areas that might have a higher concentration of confirmed cases.
  • Ensure your personnel department, or supervisors are keeping track of absentees so you can understand how it is spreading within your locations.
  • Keep your employees involved in anything related to the virus with a focus on ensuring your policies remain flexible to reduce the risk for people contracting the illness at work.
  • Identify areas in your workplace that could put employees at risk of exposure to the virus such as bathrooms, elevators, meeting rooms, lunchrooms, etc. and take precautions to keep these areas sterile such as those mentioned above: daily cleaning, hand sanitizer dispensers, posted with etiquette instructions, tissues, touch-free receptacles, etc.
  • Identify other possible exposures including those who might travel to areas with high cases of the virus, or those working at offices or locations with higher confirmed cases.
  • Consider cancelling travel unless it is completely necessary.
  • Allow employees to work remotely and work flexible hours to help reduce the risk for exposure.
  • Make sure your employees know where they can seek treatment and that you are providing support and information on a regular basis to help keep them safe.
  • Consider extending the sick time offered to employees to allow them to fully recover and reduce the risk of exposing co-workers to the virus.
  • Discuss an effective way to manage sending sick people home. If your area is currently experiencing an outbreak, it might require having special precautions in place to assess employees as they arrive.

Address Potential Business Closures

Young professional answering questionsIn severe cases of an outbreak, your business might have to arrange for temporary closures. This requires its own plan. First, you will have to determine at what point a closure would be required. This could be based on a number of factors from increased, unmanageable absenteeism to your suppliers not being able to deliver the necessities for you to function. Assign a staff member to be responsible for communicating the shutdown to employees and clients and what that communication would entail. This should be based on the most convenient and effective mode of communication to ensure everyone gets the message in a timely manner.

How to Prepare Your Employees for the Coronavirus COVID-19

Once your plan is in place, it is important to share it with your employees. Your outline should include the details for new (or existing) human resource policies, your plan for more flexible leave and time-off policies, and what pay and benefits will be available to sick staff members. This information is vital to help employees understand the importance of calling in sick. 

You should also investigate current advice from the CDC to help employees protect themselves against the virus including:
  • If symptoms persist, individuals should immediately contact their healthcare provider immediately.
  • Avoid close contact with others.
  • Covering your mouth and nose.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting spaces frequently.       

Employees should also be aware of the supplies you are providing and where they can find them to help reduce the spread of illness such as tissues, hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes to use when sharing desks and equipment. Inform staff you have arranged for additional cleanings of the office and common areas, so they understand you are doing everything possible to keep them healthy.

Remember this could impact the mental health of some employees and also lead to social consequences that are difficult to manage. This can include the stigma of certain races, as well as those who might be suspected of having the virus. Support for individuals faced with these additional social or mental challenges will also be required.

It is also important for your employees to have a designated Primary Care Physician (PCP) to consult should they have symptoms. For those without a PCP, they should know their options for seeking care if they get sick.

How to Prepare Your Customers for the Coronavirus COVID-19

If your business is in contact with customers and clients, you should provide support to them as concerns continue to rise over COVID-19. Some areas to focus your efforts would include:

Elderly man ready emails on laptop

What Message Would You Like to Communicate

The message you choose could be general based on current information on the virus, or more specific to explain what you are doing to protect them and your staff against exposure, such as increasing the rigor of cleaning and sanitizing procedures of your office.

You will also have to consider how you will communicate more serious messages such as interruption of services or deliveries or the need to shut down your location, or specific locations if you have various branches.

Who Should Deliver this Information

Determine who will be responsible for sharing information with customers and clients. In some cases, it makes sense for agents and sales representatives who deal directly with clients to deliver the information, while in others you might decide your public relations, communications or marketing teams should come up with the best approach. Either way, it should be handled with consistency, care, and as positively as possible to avoid causing panic and to avoid miscommunication.

What Method Communication Is Needed

As with your employees, you want to ensure the most effective communication method is used. This can vary depending on your industry, your clients and the methods you have at your disposal. It might prove more effective to use several methods, so the right people are reached including emails, phone calls, or social media posts. Social media posts should be handled with special care, as it will reach a broader audience.

Do You Have the Right Insurance Coverage for Coronavirus COVID-19?

The coronavirus COVID-19 presents a unique situation that can quickly become a threat to your business operations, making now the time to assess your insurance to help mitigate risks related to both employee illness and unexpected closures and business interruptions.

Schedule an appointment with our insurance agents to discuss your current coverage and explore other policies you should consider to help reduce the risk. 

Some areas to discuss would include:

  • Business interruption to cover expenses in the case you are forced to shut down or see delays related to suppliers unable to deliver or clients unable to make payments due to their own issues.
  • Errors and omissions to address the heightened risk of errors made due to a shortage of staff.
  • Employment practices to mitigate risks associated with COVID-19 related policies.
  • Employee health, disability and life insurance to see if there is a better way to assist those affected by complications and time off due to the illness.

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About The Author

Dave Cribb, the Chief Operations Officer of LCK, has an extensive background in management and sales in the financial sector.

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