Excerpted from Harvard Business Review by Jeff Levin-cherz and Deana Allen
The coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China has spread to at least 144 countries and has sickened more than 204,000 people, with more than 8,000 deaths. Governments have shut borders and imposed quarantines, and companies have imposed travel bans. The human and economic impacts on businesses have been stark.
This epidemic is a wake-up call for companies to carefully review the strategies, policies, and procedures they have in place to protect employees, customers, and operations in this and future epidemics. Here are eight questions that companies should ask as they prepare for — and respond to — the spread of the virus.
1. How can we best protect our employees from exposure in the workplace?
The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 (as the disease is called) is thought to spread largely through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing, and it seems to spread easily. It may also be possible to become infected by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching one’s nose or mouth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that employees should:
•Stay home if they have respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath) and/or a temperature above 100.4 F.
•Leave work if they develop these symptoms while at the workplace.
•Shield coughs and sneezes with a tissue, elbow, or shoulder (not the bare hands).
•Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
We would add that it’s sensible to avoid shaking hands entirely to reduce the risk of spreading infection. Though that might be awkward at times, it’s an increasingly common practice in hospitals and clinics.
As hand washing is one of the most effective defenses, employers need to make sure that employees have ready access to washing facilities and that those are kept well stocked with soap and (ideally) paper towels; there is some evidence that paper towel drying is less likely to spread viruses than jet dryers. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers and sanitizing wipes should be distributed throughout the workplace, and all frequently touched surfaces such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs should be routinely cleaned. Increased cleaning of common areas using standard cleaning agents can also reduce risk of spread of respiratory disease. Unless they’re delivering health care, there’s no need for organizations to stockpile face masks, as these are in short supply and the CDC doesn’t recommend their use by healthy people to protect against infection.
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