The COVID-19 outbreak is at top of mind for facility managers nationwide. Keep up with the current number of cases in your state with our interactive map, updated daily by our sister publication, the EHS Daily Advisor—and read on for steps your organization can take to help limit its exposure to, and disruption by, the coronavirus.
We will be updating the below map at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays and at noon on weekends (all times Eastern) for the foreseeable future. Check back frequently for new numbers, and visit your state’s department of health website for more information specific to your region. (Editor’s Note: The map legend was updated a fourth time the morning of April 7, 2020.)
Data source: Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center, which pulls data from WHO, CDC, ECDC, NHC, DXY, and local media reports
The situation surrounding COVID-19 should be treated seriously and approached with an appropriate level of concern. Facilities managers can take reasonable steps right away to protect the health and safety of their employees as well as mitigate the risks posed by business disruption. Here are some action items that you can put to good use right away.
Steps Facilities Managers Can Take to Limit COVID-19 Exposure and Disruption
1. Be as transparent as possible with everyone in your facilities. Communicate accurate and up-to-date information about the transmission and symptoms of the coronavirus. According to the CDC, the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). The virus generally is contained in the respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but the CDC has indicated that this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Because new information is being discovered about the spread and incubation time of the disease, check regularly with the CDC for accurate and up-to-date information on its CDC’s coronavirus website.
Symptoms for the coronavirus can be similar to the flu and include fever, cough, and shortness of breath and can appear from two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. There is no vaccine for the coronavirus or drug treatment currently, but most cases of the coronavirus have been relatively mild and treated effectively with symptom-relieving medications, such as fever reducers. Also consider posting the CDC’s “What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)” in your workplace.
2. Have a plan to address potential COVID-19 outbreaks. Review your leave, paid time off, compensation, and attendance policies with your team to keep them appraised of their options in the event of a major coronavirus outbreak. Consider suspending any medical certification requirements during an outbreak and allowing employees to use paid leave for any coronavirus-related absence. Include a plan to address possible employee absences related to their children’s illness.
Also identify jobs that can be performed from employees’ homes and work with them to facilitate the transition to remote working. Allow for flexibility if employees have school-aged children, as many school districts have either closed or shifted to a remote learning model.
Develop contingency plans for operating your facility if short-staffed.
3. Train your team on steps they can take to prevent the spread of infections. Emphasize the importance of limiting the spread of disease through proper hand washing, coughing into tissues, disposing of used tissues, and avoiding toughing eyes, nose, and mouth.
Promote personal hygiene at your facility, and do your best to provide the necessary items to prevent the spread of the disease: tissues, no-touch trash cans with plastic liners, hand soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, and disposable disinfecting towels for workers to clean their work surfaces. Also, help your employees by following some simple behavioral safety tips.
Regularly clean work spaces and surfaces. Bathrooms and break areas are obvious places that should be scrubbed, but do not forget to clean phones, computer keyboards, desk tops, and doorknobs. Encourage everyone working at your facilities to wipe down their personal workspaces at the end of each day.
Note, too, the CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, and recommends use only if a healthcare professional recommends it. A facemask should be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms.
4. Limit business travel to countries with documented exposure to the COVID-19 virus, including China, Japan, South Korea, and Italy. Encourage employees to avoid personal travel to these countries until the outbreaks are contained. The CDC provides information on travel to countries affected by COVID-19.
You should also ask team members to limit travel to any hotspots in the United States, such as New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco. If your facility is located in a state where the governor has issued orders to shelter in place, encourage your team to do so.
5. Ask anyone to stay home if they are sick, particularly if they are exhibiting any coronavirus symptoms. In particular, the CDC recommends that employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness should stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever, 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. ibuprofen and cough suppressants).
As noted above, encourage the use of paid leave if available and do not penalize employees who take the time off for this reason. Consider posting the CDC’s “What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)” in your workplace or sharing it via e-mail. Encourage employees to follow the suggestions from the CDC, including going to their healthcare provider and self-quarantine if they are diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Note that most cases of coronavirus likely will not meet the serious health condition definition for coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), just as most cases of the flu typically are not covered by the FMLA. However, more severe cases that require more than two visits to a health care provider and continuing treatment, such as those involving pneumonia, or that require inpatient care will be protected by the FMLA.
6. Send employees home who become ill at work, regardless of whether you think it is coronavirus, the flu, or simply a bad cold. Work to minimize their contact with other employees until they can leave the facility to limit the potential spread of the virus. Encourage them to seek medical treatment from their health care providers and self-quarantine if they think this is COVID-19.
7. Keep medical information related to employees who have the coronavirus confidential. Remember, both the ADA and FMLA require you to keep medical information about employees confidential, including information about the coronavirus.
8. Keep up to date with the latest information on the COVID-19 from the CDC and local health authorities. Monitor outbreaks in your community and check the CDC’s coronavirus website on a regular basis for new recommendations for responding to any outbreak.