Coronavirus 2019-nCoV — Advice to Businesses

A good preventive and preparedness summary of steps you can take.

by Eric Holdeman / February 11, 2020

The information below is being provided by Public Health to businesses in King County, Wash. It is applicable wherever you are located. The one caveat is that you should be in touch with your own local public health organization.

 

2019 Novel Coronavirus – Information for Employers

Background

As you may know, China is experiencing an expanding outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus emerged in Hubei Province, China in December 2019. The virus can spread from person-to-person, and cases have been detected in a number of countries internationally and in the United States.  

At this time, the immediate risk to the general public in Washington and the United States is considered to be low. There is no evidence that 2019-nCoV is spreading in Washington or in any community in the U.S.

The risk for novel coronavirus infection is related to having been to China in the past 14 days and having direct contact with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus infection. Risk is not related to race, ethnicity or nationality.

Should this situation change, we have provided pandemic preparedness resources below. These have been developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the last 10 years and were updated in 2017. It’s always good practice for American businesses, large and small, to be prepared for possible widespread of a flu-like virus.

Sharing accurate information during a time of heightened concern is one of the best things we can do to keep rumors and misinformation from spreading and to prevent harmful behaviors resulting in stigmatization and discrimination. Please help by educating your workforce about coronavirus and providing resources where they can continue to get current and accurate updates. See the resource list below.

CDC recommended strategies for employers to use now:

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home.
  • Separate sick employees.
  • Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning.
  • Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps, such as checking the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices and checking themselves for symptoms of respiratory illness.
  • Additional measures are recommended for employees who themselves have 2019-nCoV infection or who have a sick family member who is infected.

More details about each of these recommendations are available from the CDC’s new February 2020 guidance for businesses: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/guidance-business-response.html

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Several coronaviruses cause mild respiratory illnesses such as the common cold. Other coronaviruses have caused more severe illness, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). 2019-nCoV is a new coronavirus that had not been seen in humans before December 2019.

How is the novel coronavirus infection spread?

Experts believe that the 2019-nCoV primarily spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Droplets from a cough or sneeze can travel up to about six feet. Another person can become infected if these droplets enter their mouth, nose or eyes directly or through their contaminated hands. An infected person who coughs or sneezes into their hands and touches surfaces such as phones, tables, door handles, or toys can contaminate them. While some coronaviruses can be spread to others through contaminated surfaces, coronaviruses generally do not survive on surfaces for a prolonged period of time. It takes 2 to 14 days after a person gets the virus in their body to become ill.

Who should seek medical evaluation for 2019-nCoV?

Individuals who are:

  • Ill with a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing AND have traveled from China in the last 14 days

OR

  • Ill with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing AND have been identified by Public Health as a recent close contact of a confirmed 2019-nCoV case or had recent close contact with someone who is being evaluated for 2019-nCoV infection.

What should I do if I suspect an employee is at risk for 2019-nCoV?

If an employee meets the above criteria, they most likely have a common respiratory infection but should be evaluated further. Offer the employee a mask, if available, to prevent the spread of droplets when coughing and sneezing. Ask them to return home and advise them to immediately notify their health-care provider about their symptoms and recent travel. Before seeking care in person, individuals should always call their health-care provider and tell them that they are being evaluated for 2019-nCoV infection. The health-care provider will work with Public Health to determine next steps.

Should all individuals returning from China stay home from work for 14 days?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all travelers from China arriving in the U.S. AFTER February 2, 2020 at 2 p.m. stay at home, away from others, and monitor their health for 14 days. This measure was put in place because of the increasing number of cases of 2019-nCoV in China.

There is no recommendation for people without symptoms arriving before this time to restrict their activities. All travelers from China arriving BEFORE February 2, 2020 at 2 p.m. can continue to attend work and should take the following steps:

  • Watch for any changes in your health for 14 days after leaving China.
  • If you get a fever or develop a cough or difficulty breathing during this 14-day period, avoid contact with others. Call your doctor or health-care provider to tell them about your symptoms and your recent travel.

When can employees return to work?

Individuals who are asked to self-isolate due to travel history and are well may return to work and their usual activities after 14 days. Public Health does not require employees to submit a doctor’s note before transitioning back to work.

What leave policies are in place for employees in Washington state?

Employees can benefit from several policies designed to ensure pay during times of illness. These include:

  • WA Paid Sick Leave: As of Jan. 1, 2018, employers in Washington state are required to provide paid sick leave to their employees. 

https://www.lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/leave/paid-sick-leave/ 

  • WA Paid Family Leave: Paid Family and Medical Leave is a new benefit for Washington workers. When a serious health condition prevents an employee from working, paid family leave is available.

 https://paidleave.wa.gov/ 

What can I do to prevent 2019-nCoV infections in my workplace?

Places of employment do not need to take any special precautions beyond what is normally recommended to prevent the spread of germs. You can help employees reduce their risk of getting and spreading viral respiratory infections, including the flu and the common cold, by encouraging them to take simple steps which will also prevent 2019-nCoV. These include:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, particularly after coughing or sneezing, using the restroom, and handling and preparing food.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home while sick and avoid close contact with others.
  • Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash hands.

In addition, we recommend that businesses be sure to follow their regular cleaning and disinfection program.

  • Clean hard surfaces (desks, tables, countertops, sinks) daily. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (door handles, faucets, railings), bathrooms and health rooms at least once a day. Use alcohol wipes to clean keyboards.
  • Clean surfaces with fragrance-free soap or third-party certified cleaners. Thorough cleaning with soap and water will remove most microorganisms.
  • Use EPA safer disinfectants registered for influenza on hard surfaces. Clean the surface first to remove all organic matter. Apply the proper concentration of disinfectant and allow the required wet contact time. Pay close attention to hazard warnings and instructions for using personal protective items such as gloves and eye protection. Use disinfectants in a sufficiently ventilated space.

Is masking recommended for nCoV prevention?

Public Health does not currently recommend that people wear masks to protect themselves from nCoV when in public, including in workplace settings. This infection is not currently spreading in the U.S. Additionally, there is uncertainty about the scientific effectiveness of using masks in public to prevent illness.   Public Health recommends that all individuals stay home and away from others when sick.

However, in China, Japan, and other Asian countries, mask use is customary and acceptable. Please communicate to your workforce that if employees wear masks, we should not assume that they have been exposed to coronavirus or any other illness. Because mask use is customary in some cultures, it’s not appropriate to make assumptions about why someone is wearing a mask or to stigmatize or discriminate against people who choose to wear masks.

What can my business do now to make sure we are prepared in case 2019-nCoV continues to spread in the United States?

The CDC reports that the severity of illness or how many people will fall ill from 2019-nCoV is unknown at this time. If there is evidence of a 2019-nCoV outbreak in the US, employers should plan to be able to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity and be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed. For the general American public, such as workers in non-healthcare settings and where it is unlikely that work tasks create an increased risk of exposures to coronavirus, the immediate health risk from nCoV is considered low.

All employers need to consider how best to decrease the spread of acute respiratory illness, like the flu and like nCoV, in their workplace in the event of an outbreak. They should identify and communicate their objectives, which may include one or more of the following: (a) reducing transmission among staff, (b) protecting people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications, (c) maintaining business operations, and (d) minimizing adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains.

Do I need to make or update our business’ plan for a pandemic?

Yes, all employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from nCoV while ensuring continuity of operations. During a 2019-nCoV outbreak, all sick employees should stay home and away from the workplace, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene should be encouraged, and routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces should be performed regularly. It is much easier to develop a pandemic flu response plan before there are many people infected locally. Businesses should ensure the plan is flexible and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan. The CDC offers many suggestions about strong elements of an infectious disease outbreak response plan, including how to protect employees from exposures to the virus, human resources policies, flexible work locations and hours, identifying essential functions needed to assure business continuity of operations, planned triggers for when these policies will intensify or stop, communication plans and how school situations will affect the business. More guidance is here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/guidance-business-response.html.

Where can I turn for more information about 2019-nCoV?

As with any newly emerging infectious disease, knowledge evolves with time. Early on, it is difficult to know the ways in which the disease spreads, how effectively it spreads from person to person, and how severe the infection is. Public Health — Seattle & King County will continue to update the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) website as more information becomes available, at www.kingcounty.gov/ncov.

Platforms & Programs