No doubt we will all remember the global COVID-19 outbreak much the same way our great grandparents remembered World War II and the Great Depression. But until we get to the point at which COVID-19 is a memory, we must live in the here and now. Doing so requires taking steps to protect employees and businesses.
As of the time of this writing, COVID-19 has infected more than 169,300 people worldwide. More than 77,200 have recovered while 6,500 have lost their lives. No one can say for sure where all of this is leading. However, the general guidance seems to be one of proper hygiene and social distancing. So what does this mean for businesses?
To Close or Not to Close
The U.S. has seen the suspension of nearly all professional sports and public events. Some companies are recommending workers work from home; others have closed up shop entirely to wait the virus out.
According to OSHA, business owners should develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that includes guidelines dictating how they will act should the virus begin affecting their workers. As part of the plan, employers are encouraged to "address the level of risk associated with various work sites and job tasks workers perform at those sites."
Whether or not a business should close really depends on the level of risk. At this time, neither the CDC nor any other government agency is mandating businesses closure. Business owners have the freedom to decide for themselves, their workers, and their customers whether or not to remain operational.
Guidance for the Workplace
Assuming most businesses will continue operations, the CDC has also issued guidelines for the workplace. The guidelines begin with the obvious suggestion to encourage sick employees to stay home. They also recommend that workers with symptoms of acute respiratory illness not return to work until they are symptom-free for 24 hours.
In the event workers arrive sick or take ill during work hours, the CDC recommends they be immediately separated and sent home as quickly as possible. Management is encouraged to remind sick workers to keep their distance from other workers and to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze.
Obviously, it is always wise to encourage employees to wash their hands with soap and water on a regular basis. Hands should be washed after visiting the restroom as well as periodically throughout the day, just to be safe.
The CDC also recommends:
- Posting literature (posters, bulletin board fliers, etc.) reminding employees not to come to work when sick
- Providing tissues and hands-free waste bins
- Encouraging the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer along with hand washing
- Performing regular environmental cleaning of workstations, counter tops, etc.
Like any other virus, COVID-19 spreads through physical contact between people, the spaces they share, and the objects they touch. Thus the call for regular hand washing and social distancing.
It is necessary for some employees to travel for work. With international travel being restricted now, domestic travel is more of a concern. The CDC recommends that employers pay close attention to official Travelers Health Notices to stay abreast of when and to where employees can travel.
Employees should not travel if they are showing any symptoms of illness. Depending on where they must go, they might also be checked before boarding an airplane, a train, or other form of public transportation.
Until COVID-19 passes, it is incumbent upon all of us to be vigilant. However, there is no need to panic. Good hygiene and social distancing are our best weapons against COVID-19.