By Timothy W. Braun, Risk Control Specialist
COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, is an infectious respiratory illnesses. (Also called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2). Although the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu can look similar, the two illnesses are caused by different viruses.
- Corona Virus can cause fever, cough, body ache, fatigue; sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Can result in pneumonia.
- Illness can range from mild to severe, even fatal in rare cases. Older individuals and those with health complications are more susceptible.
- Can be spread from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person coughing, sneezing or talking. The droplets land on the mouth, nose, or are inhaled by someone nearby. Nearby is often said to be within about 6 feet.
- The virus is spread getting onto your hands and being transferred to your mouth, nose, or eyes from your hands, or by other means.
- COVID-19 might be spread through tiny droplets remaining in the air even after the ill person is no longer near. This means of spread is uncertain.
- People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest). Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms with this coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
- COVID-19 is not treatable with antibiotics, which only work on bacterial infections.
- May be treated by addressing symptoms, such as reducing fever. Severe cases may require hospitalization and support such as mechanical ventilation.
- Antiviral medications are currently being tested to see if they can address symptoms.
- No vaccine is available at this time, though it is in progress.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Be Aware – As the knowledge of the virus and how it is spreading is evolving it is important to keep up on current recommendations. Visit websites like from the CDC, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, OSHA – that can be trusted to have good information. Obtain information and recommendations from local authorities on the current knowledge and status of the virus and their recommendations. (See examples at the end for websites with information.)
- Be aware of the nature of the virus and how it is spread to protect yourself, your family, and your employees or coworkers. We are all dependent on each other to prevent the spread of the virus.
- Educate your employees and co-workers.
- Don’t scare people, but inform them.
- Have a plan for your workplace and communicate this with your workers.
- Use posters to convey and re-enforce recommendations.
Prevention – General
- Both COVID-19 and the Flu may be prevented by frequent, thorough hand washing. Cough into a tissue, or into the crook of your elbow. Stay home when sick and limit contact with people who are infected.
Handwashing – The importance of handwashing can’t be overstated. Most of us don’t wash our hands for long enough or effectively.
- Wash your hands with soap and running water or hand sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol content for at least 20 seconds.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Wash your hands before eating or touching your face, nose, or rubbing your eyes.
- Wash your hands after touching your face, nose, or eyes to prevent possible spread of illness.
- Wash your hands after sneezing or coughing.
- Wash your hands after touching things that are touched by others.
- Wash your hands when in public places.
- Have the capability to wash your hands.
Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing.
- Use a tissue (preferably) or handkerchief if you have one.
- If you don’t have a tissue, cough into the crook of your elbow, not your hand.
- Throw away used tissues or wipes into lined trashcans.
- Wash your hands!
Avoid touching your mouth, nose, face, or eyes.
- Remember to wash your hands before and after doing so.
- Do you have supplies like hand disinfectants, tissues, wipes, and surface disinfectants available for your staff or personally as individuals?
- Do you have liners for trashcans in your place of business or home?
- If possible, have devices (like waste cans) that allow for use without touching by hand.
Routinely Clean and Disinfect Surfaces.
- Workstations, countertops, doorknobs, handles, railings, etc. that are frequently touched or handled.
- Use routine cleaners.
- Use disinfecting wipes.
- Provide hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes at individual workstations.
IF YOUR OR YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE SICK
Don’t go into work if sick with respiratory illness or fever.
- Encourage actively that employees Stay Home if they are sick.
- Isolate and separate sick employees and have them go home if they become sick at work.
- Wait until fever and symptoms subside, and are gone for 24 hours before returning to work.
- If you’ve been sick with coronavirus, consult with physician before breaking isolation.
Isolate, Keep Distance or Create Barriers to Virus Spread.
- Between yourself and others if they, or you are sick.
- Go home and stay home if you are sick.
- Stay in separate rooms – for sick and non-sick individuals.
- Wear a mask if you are sick and around others.
- Wear a mask (preferably N95) if you have to be in the same immediate area as sick persons to assist or treat them.
- Masks could be given to sick employees, persons, or visitors until they can be separated from the rest of the group.
- Currently, the use of respirators is not recommended for most people.
- Don’t share bedding, dishes, cupS, etc. with others if you are sick.
- Keep pets away from sick persons if possible, they might be able to carry the virus.
If Necessary, Seek Medical Attention.
- Seek Medical Attention if you are sick and need medical attention.
- Call ahead to your Doctor or Clinic for instructions – don’t just show up.
Have a plan: Considerations for Businesses and Families.
It’s important to consider how you can reduce transmission within your organization or group, protect those at higher risk, maintain business operations and minimize any impact on other organizations or entities you deal with. Seek input from within and outside of your organization.
- Do you have supplies and equipment necessary to prevent spread of illness and maintain operations?
- Do you have housekeeping plans?
- How can you deal with or isolate sick individuals from healthy ones?
- For employers, think about the possibility for significant numbers of individuals having to stay away from work.
- Can you take advantage of remote work or telework opportunities? Both as reactive and proactive measures? Consider Telework or remote work plans.
- Consider cross-training to accomplish necessary functions.
- What technologies are available to you to promote remote work?
- How or can you deal with a reduced work force at your location?
- What are the essential function of the organization? And, essential work or supply streams?
- Do your sick and other leave plans have enough flexibility to accommodate needs?
- Possibly don’t require doctor’s notes for employees who are sick.
- You or your employees may also have to deal with sick individuals at your home.
- You or your employees may have to deal with children or dependents sent home because of school or other closings.
- Have you considered other disruptions to supply chains, transportation, or other needed services?
- Have you communicated with those parties who serve you or that you serve?
- Have you thought of how you will communicate/coordinate with manpower, service providers or contractors? Communicate with contractors or visitors on the importance of staying away if sick and / or any other policies you might have.
- Do travel plans take employees into locations that are of concerns? (See web link below.)
- How do you deal with employees who become sick when on travel status?
- Is there structure or chain of responsibilities for carrying out your plan.
- How will you inform your staff of the company plans?
- Share your plan and best practices with your organization and other organizations that might be affected.
- Do you know who or of local health authorities to coordinate with?
For more information, check out these resources:
For Business Planning
CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses & Employers to Plan and respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Feb. 2020 – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fguidance-business-response.html
For Travel Risk – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
For Employee Protection – CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fguidance-business-response.html
OSHA – https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/novel_coronavirus/index.html
For General Virus Information and Protection
CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html
World Health Organization (WHO) – https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
American Public Health Association (APHA) – https://www.apha.org/topics-and-issues/communicable-disease/coronavirus
Harvard University – https://www.harvard.edu/coronavirus
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx
- CDC Corona Virus Fact Sheet – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf
- Corona Virus Poster – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/share-facts-h.pdf
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