Coronavirus (COVID-19): What You Need to Know

COVID-19

Just as this year’s cold and flu season was making headlines for its early appearance and severity, a different virus jumped into the spotlight: 2019 novel coronavirus, also commonly known as COVID-19.

This emerging respiratory infection is getting focused worldwide attention not only because it’s new, but also because it seemingly spreads easily through person-to-person contact, as evidenced by the current international outbreak.

Although the unknowns surrounding COVID-19 may be unsettling, there are easy actions you can take now to protect yourself and limit the spread of the illness.

What Exactly is a Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are actually a family of respiratory viruses, including the common cold, that infect animals and humans. There are currently seven types of human coronaviruses, including COVID-19. Most human coronaviruses cause mild to moderate illness, but some, like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), can be severe.

COVID-19 Symptoms and Spread

The virus spreads easily via respiratory droplets when a sick person coughs or sneezes within a 6-foot range of others, says the CDC. You may also get the virus from touching an infected surface or object and then touching your face, but person-to-person spread is more common. Fortunately, simple habits can help stop the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and may appear 2-14 days after exposure.

In the event that this virus spreads into your community, there are action steps you can take to prepare for and prevent the impact of the illness on your organization. To help you establish a plan for the protection of your employees and organization, strategies and tips unique to each of our core niches are outlined below:

Religious Organizations

Religious organizations that are educated about coronavirus prevention will be best prepared for a potential outbreak. As you create a plan of action, consider these important components:

  • As with any virus, the first step is to communicate with congregants that if they or any of their family members are sick or showing signs of the virus, they should stay home from church that week.
  • Develop a communication plan for canceling or postponing large gatherings. Decide with your staff at what point would you cancel services and how that decision will be communicated.
  • Be prepared to offer digital worship services and Bible studies. If your organization does not offer the streaming of services on its website, Facebook live or another social media platform may be a good alternative.
  • Encourage digital giving. If you can’t gather and pass the offering plate or bucket, you can be prepared to offer other mechanisms for your members to give. Digital giving options can help sustain regular donation levels in the case that regular service attendance drops or is canceled.
  • Reconsider current practices that might be harmful for spreading viruses, such as the traditional “meet and greet” or shared communion.
  • Be sure to clean frequently touched surfaces. Your organization can be ready by having plenty of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes on hand. Instruct staff and volunteers to wipe off surfaces like desks, chairs, door handles, and light switches at least once a day.
  • Consider rescheduling international travel including mission trips. The virus is wide spread globally. Even if your team is not traveling to a place where there is an outbreak, they may be quarantined if they have come into contact with someone who is exposed in a layover, airport or other travel destination.
  • Be particularly cautious of missionaries and others returning from overseas. International travelers are more likely to have been exposed to the virus and may need to be quarantined.

Schools

Schools will face important decisions in the event of a widespread outbreak, including potential school closure. It’s important they keep the safety of students and faculty in mind when putting together a plan to best minimize risk. These are some strategies schools can use to help prevent the spread and impact of illness:

  • Review emergency operations plans. Every school should have plans that detail response to outside factors up to and including canceling classes.
  • Remind parents that students should be kept home if they exhibit symptoms. Make sure that teachers are prepared to send home make up work for those who are ill.
  • Update substitute teacher lists. Prepare for a limited number of subs to be available to replace your teachers who may be out due to illness.
  • Have teachers prepare instructions for substitutes. Every teacher should have a plan in place in case they cannot be at school the next day.
  • Speak to children about proper handwashing techniques. They need to know to use warm soapy water while washing their hands for at least 20 seconds. An easy way for kids to remember this is to sing the ABC song twice at a normal pace.
  • Diligently clean frequently touched surfaces. Get your facility ready by having plenty of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes on hand. Instruct staff and students to wipe off surfaces like desks, chairs, door handles, and light switches at least once a day.
  • Kids may have a lot of questions about what they are hearing about the coronavirus. This cartoon developed by National Public Radio (NPR) gives a simple explanation about the virus and illustrates why it’s so important to practice good hygiene.
  • Consider rescheduling international travel including study abroad. The virus is wide spread globally. Even if your students or faculty are not traveling to a place where there is an outbreak, they may be quarantined if they have come into contact with someone who is exposed in a layover, airport or other travel destination.

For more information, please see the CDC resources for schools.

Human Services

Human services organizations face unique risks in any epidemic. Group homes, homeless shelters and other organizations have large numbers of residents in close proximity that allows for quick transmission of viruses. There are a number of strategies that can be taken to minimize risk to the facility and its employees, residents and clients.

  • Screen potential clients or residents for symptoms of the virus. Assess residents for symptoms of respiratory infection upon admission and implement appropriate infection prevention practices for incoming symptomatic residents.
  • Understand COVID-19 activity in your community to help inform the evaluation of individuals with unknown respiratory illness. If there is transmission of COVID-19 in the community, facilities should also consult with local public health authorities for additional guidance.
  • Instruct potential visitors not to enter the facility if they exhibit symptoms. While residents enjoy visitors, exposure can be reduced by encouraging phone calls or video chats instead.
  • Monitor residents and employees for symptoms. If possible, try to keep symptomatic residents to their rooms and away from common areas where they are more likely to spread the virus.
  • Consider conducting outpatient services like therapy through video conferencing or other technology for potentially exposed clients. You may also opt to eliminate patient penalties for cancellations and missed appointments related to respiratory illness.
  • Support good hygiene practices throughout the facility by making soap, water and alcohol-based sanitizer available in key places. Ensure employees clean their hands according to CDC guidelines, including before and after contact with residents, after contact with contaminated surfaces or equipment, and after removing personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Minimize food service exposure by having staff plate meals whenever possible instead of a self-service buffet.
  • Ensure staff is aware of sick leave policies, and encourage them to stay home if they are ill with respiratory symptoms. Make contingency plans for increased absenteeism caused by employee illness or illness in employees’ family members that would require them to stay home. Planning for absenteeism could include extending hours, cross-training current employees, or hiring temporary employees.

Health Services Employee Exposure

Health services employees have an increased possibility of exposure to illness. One of the largest outbreaks of Coronavirus in the United States is at a nursing facility. Given that many patients are immunocompromised, the virus can spread very quickly and the mortality rate is likely to be increased. There are a number of mitigation measures that can be taken to reduce the risk in your facility and to your employees.

  • Screen potential patients for symptoms of the virus. Infected individuals may not exhibit symptoms for several days, but those patients who do have symptoms should be kept secluded with limited contact from the general population.
  • Instruct potential visitors not to enter the facility if they exhibit symptoms. Provide masks and sanitizer at entrances.
  • Monitor residents and employees for symptoms. If possible, try to keep symptomatic residents to their rooms and away from common areas where they are more likely to spread the virus.
  • Support good hygiene practices throughout the facility by making soap and water as well as alcohol-based sanitizer in key places.
  • Provide appropriate PPE for anyone treating potentially exposed or infected patients. This would be a good time to review the principles of universal precautions in employee safety training.

The CDC has additional resources that may be helpful:

Tips for Business Owners

The primary concern for most small business owners is the health of their employees and customers. There are several things you can do to minimize the risks.

  • Clean frequently touched surfaces. Get your facility ready by having plenty of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes on hand. Instruct staff to wipe off surfaces like desks, chairs, door handles and light switches at least once a day.
  • Consider rescheduling international travel. The virus is wide spread globally. Even if your employees are not traveling to a place where there is an outbreak, they may be quarantined if they have come into contact with someone who is exposed in a layover, airport or other travel destination.
  • Ensure staff is aware of sick leave policies, and encourage them to stay home if they are ill with respiratory symptoms. Make contingency plans for increased absenteeism caused by employee illness or illness in employees’ family members that would require them to stay home. Planning for absenteeism could include extending hours, cross-training current employees or hiring temporary employees.

SOURCES

Coronavirus | About Coronavirus 2019 | What You Need to Know About Coronavirus Disease 2019 | Coronavirus 2019 Symptoms | Transmission of Coronavirus 2019 | Locations with Confirmed COVID-19 Cases | How Clean Hands Can Help Prevent the Spread of Illnesses | What to Do if You Are Sick With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 | How to Protect Yourself in the Workplace During a Pandemic

Filed under Small Business Church Nonprofit Education
Brian Gleason

Brian Gleason

Senior Risk Manager

Brian Gleason is a Senior Risk Manager at GuideOne Insurance, providing resources and consulting services to GuideOne clients. His goal is to keep his clients' valuable resources focused on their mission.

© 2020 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved. This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.