Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) From Businesses
Coronavirus is top of mind for business professionals across the globe. We recently hosted a preparedness and response webinar to help organizations take all necessary and appropriate steps to keep their employees safe and operations running.
If you missed the pandemic preparedness webinar, view it here: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Planning webinar.
Below are answers to the questions we get asked the most:
What do we do if an employee appears sick?
- If any employee presents themselves at work with a fever or difficulty in breathing, this indicates that they should seek medical evaluation. While these symptoms are not always associated with influenza and the likelihood of an employee having the COVID-19 coronavirus is extremely low, it pays to err on the side of caution. Retrain your supervisors on the importance of not overreacting to situations in the workplace potentially related to COVID-19 in order to prevent panic among the workforce.
Can we ask an employee to stay home or leave work if they exhibit symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu?
- Yes, you are permitted to ask them to seek medical attention and get tested for COVID-19. The CDC states that employees who exhibit symptoms of influenza-like illness at work during a pandemic should leave the workplace.
- During the H1N1 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that advising workers to go home is not disability-related if the symptoms present are akin to the seasonal influenza or the H1N1 virus. Therefore, an employer may require workers to go home if they exhibit symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu.
An employee of ours has tested positive for COVID-19. What should we do?
- You should send home all employees who worked closely with that employee for a 14-day period to ensure the infection does not spread. Before the employee departs, ask them to identify all individuals who worked in close proximity (three to six feet) with them in the previous 14 days to ensure you have a full list of those who should be sent home. When sending the employees home, do not identify by name the infected employee or you could risk a violation of confidentiality laws. You may also want to consider asking a cleaning company to undertake a deep cleaning of your affected workspaces. If you work in a shared office building or area, you should inform building management so they can take whatever precautions they deem necessary. You may need to consider creating alternative workspaces, such as a mobile recovery center, to allow adequate social distancing for all employees.
One of our employees has a suspected but unconfirmed case of COVID-19. What should we do?
- Take the same precautions as noted above. Treat the situation as if the suspected case is a confirmed case for purposes of sending home potentially infected employees. Communicate with your affected workers to let them know that the employee has not tested positive for the virus but has been exhibiting symptoms that lead you to believe a positive diagnosis is possible.
If someone shows signs of illness, what should we do to clean our offices?
- It is recommended that you thoroughly disinfect all surfaces. Studies show that common household disinfectants, including soap or a diluted bleach solution, can deactivate coronaviruses on indoor surfaces.. You may also want to consider asking a cleaning company to undertake a deep cleaning of your affected workspaces. If you work in a shared office building or area, you should inform building management so they can take whatever precautions they deem necessary. You may need to consider creating alternative workspaces, such as a mobile recovery center, to allow adequate social distancing for all employees.
Can spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body kill the new coronavirus?
- No. Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth) and clothes. Be aware that both alcohol and chlorine can be useful to disinfect surfaces, but they need to be used under appropriate recommendations.
Do vaccines against pneumonia protect you against the new coronavirus?
- No. Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus. The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine against 2019-nCoV, and WHO is supporting their efforts.
Does the new coronavirus affect older people, or are younger people also susceptible?
- People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus. The WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example by following good hand hygiene, good respiratory hygiene, and social distancing.
Do you have any information regarding confidentiality laws as to disclosure (to other staff) if an employee is diagnosis with COVID-19?
- Do not identify by name the infected employee – you could risk a violation of confidentiality laws. Instead, you should send home all employees who worked closely with that employee for a 14-day period to ensure the infection does not spread. Before the employee departs, ask them to identify all individuals who worked in close proximity (three to six feet) with them in the previous 14 days to ensure you have a full list of those who should be sent home.
We have employees that travel around the country weekly. What should be the approach with this situation?
- The CDC recommends advising employees of these steps before traveling.
- Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel.
- Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
- If outside the United States, sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.
Can we require an employee to self-quarantine after traveling outside the United States?
- Yes. All U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and their immediate families who are returning from a restricted country must self-quarantine in their homes for 14 days after their arrival. In order to ensure compliance, local and state public health officials will contact individuals in the days and weeks following their arrival.
What steps can we take now to minimize risk of transmission?
- Repeatedly, creatively, and aggressively encourage employees and others to take the same steps they should be taking to avoid the seasonal flu.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with others, especially those who are sick.
- Refrain from shaking hands with others for the time being.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Perhaps the most important message you can give to employees: stay home when you are sick.
On a retail business, what is the best way to minimize impact on the business and customer service.
- The top priority should be the safety of your employees and customers. If you can establish adequate social distancing and continue to service customers that is ideal, however if services aren’t critical it may be a preferred option to close certain operations. Additionally, you may consider the use of signs to warn people not to enter if they’re not feeling well and working on a reduced staff and potentially hours of operation.
What should businesses do that are experiencing inventory shortages or otherwise rely on imports/exports?
- You could reach out to alternate vendors to see if any shortcomings can be overcome. If not, consider conservative inventory management considering the unknown timeline associated with this event.
My company needs a safe (sterile) workplace due to an outbreak affecting one of our offices. Can Agility provide safe and clear temporary workstations?
- Yes. Agility can provide alternate workspace (i.e. mobile recovery unit, flexible tent solution) if your primary office is put under quarantine, to help with social spacing, or to set up Command Centers for employee check-ins and to manage your work-from-home strategy.
Are the preparedness packages for small business to start with?
- Our pandemic preparedness package was designed to help businesses of all sizes, in any industry. Our plans are highly customizable to fit the needs of your business. For more information or to talk with an Agility representative, call 866-364-9696 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Agility has helped thousands of organizations prepare, respond, and recover from business disruptions, including pandemics like COVID-19.
Our team of business continuity experts have created a package and resources designed to help organizations adopt a quick, easy-to-implement, and cost-effective solution for pandemic resiliency.
For more, continue reading "The Business Continuity Do's and Don'ts for Business Leadership Amid the Pandemic."