Saturday, February 08, 2020

CDC Interim Guidance For Businesses & Employers On Novel Coronavirus

Business Not As Usual Pandemic Planning video


Nearly a week ago, in Does Your Company Have A CPO?,  I wrote about the need for businesses, agencies, and yes - even families - to start thinking now about how they would cope if this novel coronavirus turns into a pandemic.

A CPO; a Chief Pandemic Officer is someone whose job it is to coordinate a group's pandemic plan (see Quick! Who's Your CPO?). 
Most of the existing guidance we have for pandemic planning is based on pandemic influenza, most of which was generated a dozen years ago when H5N1 avian flu threatened.  Examples include OHSA's guidance on preparing workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic along with Guidance for Protecting Employees Against Avian Flu.

While I suspect that some people thought I was jumping the gun a bit, these are the sorts of business continuity plans that every company should have in place, regardless of the immediate threat level (see 2013's Pandemic Planning For Business).

Exactly how a novel coronavirus pandemic would play out - in terms of severity and impact - is still unknown, but I'm happy to report that yesterday the CDC released interim guidance for businesses and employers to begin to consider.

Their advice is divided into two major parts:
Recommended strategies for employers to use now:
Planning for a Possible 2019-nCoV Outbreak in the US:

Right now, the threat to U.S. citizens from this novel coronavirus - at least those without recent travel to Asia - is exceedingly low.   But this is a fast moving, unpredictable, situation.  The threat a couple of weeks from now could look a lot different.
While the steps to take now - mostly involving sick leave, encouraging employees to stay home if sick, travel advice, and environmental cleaning - are relatively simple, things will get far more complicated should 2019-nCoV become a bigger threat. 
The CDC advises:
Important Considerations for Creating an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan
All employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from 2019-nCoV while ensuring continuity of operations. During a 2019-nCoV outbreak, all sick employees should stay home and away from the workplace, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene should be encouraged, and routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces should be performed regularly.
Employers should:
  • Ensure the plan is flexible and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan.
  • Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected.
  • Share your plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them.
  • Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts.
Which means you should either be dusting off your old pandemic plan (you do have a plan, don't you?), or you'd better get cracking on creating one now.
A couple of good resources worth checking out are The Business Continuity Daily and Cambridge Risk Perspectives, both of which provide daily reviews of current threats and advice on preparedness.
While not specifically geared to a pandemic, another good place to start is with the Small Business Administration's Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Plan.

The full CDC Interim guidance is rather lengthy, so I'm only posting the summary and a link to the full document.  Study it carefully, and Monday morning, decide on a CPO. 

Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), February 2020
This interim guidance is based on what is currently known about the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will update this interim guidance as needed and as additional information becomes available.
CDC is working across the Department of Health and Human Services and across the U.S. government in the public health response to 2019-nCoV. Much is unknown about how the 2019-nCoV spreads. Current knowledge is largely based on what is known about similar coronaviruses.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in humans and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people, such as with MERS and SARS. 2019-nCoV is spreading person-to-person in China and some limited person-to-person transmission has been reported in countries outside China, including the United States. However, respiratory illnesses like seasonal influenza, are currently widespread in many US communities.
The following interim guidance may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including nCoV, in non-healthcare settings. The guidance also provides planning considerations if there are more widespread, community outbreaks of 2019-nCoV.

To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, use only the guidance described below to determine risk of nCoV infection. Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin, and be sure to maintain confidentiality of people with confirmed coronavirus infection. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features of 2019-nCoV and investigations are ongoing. Updates are available on CDC’s web page at
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