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Preventing and Managing a COVID Outbreak: Week 1 - Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response

During this time of Coronavirus I have helped over 30 business owners manage COVID policies in their workplaces including a few who have needed to quarantine staff due to COVID exposure. One of the most stressful times for all of us has been when the business owner has an employee who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, or if one of their employees has tested positive. This gave me the idea to put together this series for business owners who are caught in that stressful time and are not sure what exactly to do.

In this first week we cover what to include in an Infectious Disease and Preparedness Response Plan. Next week we will talk about when an employee is positive and the next steps to take, in the third week we will cover administering leave, and the last week will go over how to bring employees back to work. Looking forward to working with you! If you have any questions along the way, feel free to email me!

Why should I do this?

Great question! There are a few ways to answer that:

  1. If you write it it is more likely you will know it. Even if you have someone put this together for you and you just review it, it is more likely that you will know what your responsibilities are by going over exactly how your business is prepared for and responds to COVID.

  2. Being proactive ultimately reduces stress. I get that the last thing that you probably want to be doing is imagining what you would do if one of your staff tests positive (or maybe it's the opposite and this is something that keeps you up at night). If you think about this now, and create a game plan then you will be prepared if it does happen. I see this a lot with people, the idea that maybe if I just ignore this thing long enough then it won't ever happen to me. And you know what? It is so much harder for them when the thing actually happens.

  3. Legal protection. I hate to bring up the law, but the practices of policy development for HR are pretty tied up in building a defense for litigation. Having an Infectious Disease Preparedness Response Plan is one of the documents you could use in your company's defense if your practices around COVID are ever challenged in court.

Ok, I get it. Now what?

There are many types of infectious disease preparedness response plans. Some cover a wide range of infectious diseases, like you might need to have in a doctor's office. Others are more specific. We will be focusing on a COVID specific infectious disease preparedness response plan.

The Introduction

Just like in a good old fashioned school project, it's best to start out with an introduction. The introduction should explain what the plan is and is for. If we stick with the COVID theme, for example, limiting the spread of Coronavirus in the workplace. This summary should explain what the disease is and how it is transmitted, citing credible sources. This introduction should also explain that the business is putting in place specific guidelines in order to limit the spread of disease and that this plan will also outline the response to disease.

Limiting the Spread of Disease

The next part of the plan outlines what employees are expected to do in order to limit the spread of disease. At this time at minimum this should include the 5 steps supplied by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control:

  1. Wear a mask - when you wear a mask it must cover your nose and mouth.

  2. Maintain 6 foot distance - this reduces the chance that you will come into contact biomatter from other individuals

  3. Wash your hands frequently

  4. Disinfect surfaces regularly

  5. Do not come to work if you are sick

This section can also outline other requirements which may be appropriate to your workplace. I have seen some of the following:

  1. taking your temperature before entering the workplace

  2. reporting to the company if anyone in your household has tested positive

  3. testing requirements for staff, such as every 14 days or 30 days

  4. any restrictions on entering the workplace following travel (personal or otherwise)

Disease Response

The last section should include the company's response if an employee comes into close contact with someone who tests positive, or if someone tests positive for COVID. At minimum this should include:

  1. 14 day quarantine for all employees exposed to COVID

  2. Only return to work when free of symptoms for 3 days

  3. Administering all available leave through FFRCA

Train People!

This thing does you less good if no one knows about it. At a minimum train your managers on this policy and make sure they inform your staff of the most important information. If possible bring all of your staff together in a safe way and explain what is going on to them. I have done a few trainings on COVID for staff, and they so much appreciate having information shared with them from a credible source who is connected to what is actually happening in this community and in our state. There is so much misinformation out there, take this chance to lead them through uncertainty.

Additional Resources

There are tons of resources out there to help you to create an infectious disease preparedness response plan. The best sources of information that I have found are the Centers for Disease Control, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and the California State COVID website, which lists guidelines for specific business segments.

Blue Check - an endorsement from Santa Cruz County Public Health that the business follows practices lowering the risk of COVID-19 for staff and customers

Until Next Week. . .

This information should get you started on creating your Infectious Disease and Preparedness and Response Plan. You should have everything you need to put this plan together, but if you need help feel free to reach out.

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