• Coronavirus Ripples Across America’s Workforce

Hillary Redd Sospes

By: Hillary Redd

March 12, 2020

Employers and employees across the U.S. are confronting how to navigate the rapid spread of the coronavirus and the potential to close workplaces if not contained.

Since the first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) was identified in central China in December, the illness has spread across the world, leading to an outbreak the World Health Organization (WHO) has called a pandemic. As of March 10th, the coronavirus has infected over 100,000 people around the world and the U.S. has reported its 1,000th case.

012) outbreaks in infection rate and fatalities within the first month of reporting. Pharmaceutical firms and government bodies are working to develop a vaccine, but that process will take time, with some projecting the first potential therapies may be available in September. For now, information, training and reducing human contact will play the most significant role in reducing the prevalence of infection within the workforce.

OSHA Publishes Coronavirus Guide for Workplaces

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “There is no evidence of widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States at this time. Without sustained human-to-human transmission, most American workers are not at significant risk of infection. Exposure risk may be elevated for some workers who interact with potentially infected travelers from abroad, including those involved in:

  • Healthcare
  • Deathcare
  • Laboratories
  • Airline operations
  • Border protection
  • Solid waste and wastewater management
  • Travel to areas, including parts of China, where the virus is spreading”

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has released its Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 in order to assist organizations with emergency management plans following the widespread virus outbreak in the United States.

The document, which was developed in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), provides recommendations regarding safe work practices and personal protective equipment based on different levels of exposure and other risk factors.

Protecting the health and safety of America’s workforce is a key component of OSHA’s approach to combating the coronavirus. The agency also recently published a COVID-19 webpage directed toward workers and employers.

COVID-19 is Impacting the U.S. Workforce

As the coronavirus continues to spread and more extreme safety measures are being encouraged and enforced across the globe, the switch to remote work is on the fast track for many in the workplace.

Many companies, including Facebook, Amazon and Google have asked their employees to work remotely, cancelled non-essential travel and separated their office populations to mitigate the spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has released guidelines for businesses, including encouraging telework to “increase the physical distance among and between employees”.

As we mentioned in last week’s article, firms must develop proactive plans in dealing with the efforts of COVID-19 and identify how new or existing technology can support their awareness of workers’ health and safety.

Practical Steps Regarding Coronavirus for Employers and Workers

As the coronavirus continues to spread and more extreme safety measures are being encouraged and enforced across the globe, the switch to remote work is on the fast track for many in the workplace.

The CDC has also released guidelines for businesses, including encouraging telework to “increase the physical distance among and between employees”.  Many companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google have already asked their employees to work remotely, cancelled non-essential travel and separated their office populations to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Because the virus is spread from moisture droplets from the lungs, mouth and throat, avoiding this source of contact is critical.  Frequent handwashing, eliminating shaking hands (elbow bumps are the new accepted greeting for many) and making a point of sneezing into your arm or elbow are all effective steps to reduce the risk of transferring the virus.

Finally, there is ample reason to be careful, but not to panic.  COVID-19 is not the near-death sentence that Ebola and MERS were.  Most patients suffer typical flu symptoms and recover in the normal course. Fatalities have mostly occurred when patients are elderly with respiratory or immune system weaknesses.  This suggests that companies should consider extra precautions with older workers.

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