Disease & Genomics

Is your organization ready for a new viral outbreak? Here are 4 things to help you prepare.

Dr. Amit Arwindekar
Medical Director, North American Market
United Healthcare Global
Coronavirus outbreak

There is heightened coverage on the novel Coronavirus, and its impact on public health, travel and the economy is important. Whether it’s this latest virus, or others we have seen in the past like the Zika virus or the Avian flu, organizations with globally mobile employees can take a few steps to help ensure you, your organization, and your workforce is prepared.

First, employers should create a detailed emergency response plan in advance of any outbreak. An effective emergency response plan includes a list of documented policies defining roles and responsibilities, and should include work from home arrangements, travel restrictions, and policies on managing sick days and flexible working schedules, including arrangements to care for family members. For employers with employees living or working in various parts of the world, it’s important to have an accurate count of where each employee is, and how to best contact them. The plan should also include a communications component, outlining a process for providing information to employees, and a way to identify supply sources (food, water, medications and hygiene products), in the event that a quarantine is issued in your area.
For employees who have traveled to, or are carrying out an expat assignment in a country with travel restrictions or bans, it is important for employers to communicate with them regularly. Provide those employees with as much information as you can.

At home, your focus should be on keeping people - and their environment - healthy.  A few, simple, preventative actions can help reduce the spread of any disease:

  • Provide appropriate work space and increase work-from-home capabilities:  Encourage employees to work remotely, opt for teleconference options instead of onsite meetings and provide at least 3 feet (1m) space between co-workers.
  • Promote healthy habits: Encourage hand-washing with soap, provide disinfectant wipes and alcohol (60%) hand-cleansers in multiple locations around the office, encourage employees to cover their mouths when sneezing or couching, and provide surgical masks to help prevent people from touching their mouth or nose.
  • Practice prevention efforts: Encourage employees to get the seasonal flu vaccine and regularly remove trash which can have tissues with germs on them from public spaces. In addition, make sure your cleaning crews are regularly disinfecting bathrooms, doorknobs, shared phones, elevator buttons, railings and desks.

Third, for employees who are at risk for exposure and who have any symptoms, they should stay home or be sent home. Employers can advise that they call their healthcare provider right away, and let their healthcare provider know about any possible exposure. Telemedicine solutions are another good approach to limiting exposure and employers should check with their health plan partners what options are available in the specific region.  Provide employees with accurate information about how long they should stay at home, before returning to work.

Last, it’s important that employers only obtain information from reliable sources of information. Your local and national health departments such as your State’s Health Department or US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and The World Health Organization. Passing along information that is not from a reputable source will make keeping a clear and accurate understanding of a complex and evolving situation difficult if not impossible.

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