Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.
Common signs and symptoms of this illness include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. In recently reported cases, symptoms have ranged in severity from mild illness to death. The time from exposure to symptom onset ranges from two to 14 days. The virus can be spread from person-to-person, but it is unclear how easily 2019-nCoV is spreading between people at this time. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the current risk of infection in the U.S. to be low, risk for infection is higher in health care settings such as hospitals and clinical laboratories.
Recommended strategies for employers to use now
Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees:
- Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
- Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
- Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
- Visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information.
Separate sick employees:
- CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
Perform routine environmental cleaning:
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
- No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
- Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps:
- Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel. Specific travel information for travelers going to and returning from China, and information for aircrew, can be found at on the CDC website.
- 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.
Additional Measures in Response to Currently Occurring Sporadic Importations of the COVID-19:
- Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 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.
Business Continuity Planning
In addition to these recommendations, agencies should review or develop their business continuity plans. No one knows how serious COVID-19 will become, and there is the possibility it will reach pandemic levels. The CDC’s Planning and Preparedness Resources site has resources to help you ensure you can protect your workforce while ensuring continuity of operations. As part of the planning all departments should include a plan for possible skeleton crews and who can work from home in an effort to continue operations and as many services as possible in the event of an epidemic.
Develop, review or update your Business Continuity Plan
- Include what to do if someone becomes ill with suspected COVID-19 at one of your workplaces.
- Ensure you have a plan based on impact and severity of transmission (i.e. actions based on human transmission potential to your organization).
- Pre-planning should take into account potential exposure by department and job activities (ex. those with high general public contact).
- Take into account business continuity and mission critical functions (ex. who must work on-site and who can work remotely).
- Evaluate your communication process and frequency, incident management process, hygiene practices and visitor and contractor procedures.
- Take inventory of your Personal Protective Equipment (surgical masks, gloves and hand sanitizer).
- Brief your employees and contractors that if COVID-19 starts spreading in your community anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (99.1° F or higher) needs to stay at home.
Cal/OSHA Training Requirements for those Members with Police, Fire, Medical Operations
The Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard (California Code of Regulations, title 8, section 5199), contains requirements for protecting employees from diseases and pathogens transmitted by aerosols. 2019-nCoV is an airborne infectious disease covered by the ATD standard. The regulation applies in health care facilities, laboratories, public health services, police services and other locations where employees are reasonably anticipated to be exposed to confirmed or suspected cases of aerosol transmissible diseases.
A sample ATD exposure control plan for fire services and ATD police control procedures can be downloaded from the Best Practices section of the PARSAC website.
Employers must also provide a training update to employees regarding changes to their ATD exposure control plan that apply to 2019-nCoV. This update must specifically address:
- Signs and symptoms of 2019-nCoV.
- Modes of transmission of 2019-nCoV and source control procedures.
- Tasks and activities that may expose the employee to 2019-nCoV.
- Use and limitations of methods to prevent or reduce exposure to 2019-nCoV including appropriate engineering and work practice controls, decontamination and disinfection procedures, and personal and respiratory protective equipment.
- Selection of personal protective equipment, its uses and limitations, and the types, proper use, location, removal, handling, cleaning, decontamination and disposal.
- Proper use of respirators.
- Available vaccines, when they become available.
- What to do if an exposure incident occurs.
- The employer’s surge plan if applicable
The CDC and the WHO are monitoring developments regarding COVID-19 closely. We encourage you to visit their sites often for the latest information. You can also find current information at the California Department of Public Health site.