Occupational Health Experts Should Shape Covid-19 Business Continuity Plans
As infections from the new coronavirus, Covid-19, spread from the epicentre in Hubei province, China to South Korea, Italy and Iran, infectious disease experts increasingly expect that the world faces a pandemic. Over time, the Covid-19 virus which was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019 will become endemic around the world. Scientists at Imperial College, UK believe that two-thirds of Covid-19 cases exported from China have not been detected. This means that it will not be contained. Instead it will circulate in the human population like a cold, influenza or chicken pox. With an estimated fatality rate of reported infections of 2%, compared with 0.1% for influenza, this is a huge public health issue. What can occupational health experts do?
Firstly, communicating to employees about methods of prevention is an essential first step. This should include information on what Covid-19 is, typical symptoms, travel advice and how to prevent the spread of the infection. A diagnostic survey for employees concerned that they have the illness with a helpline to probe deeper is also recommended. Given the speed the virus is spreading at, this information needs to be updated daily. Workplaces should also consider providing employees with protective surgical masks (although without tight-fitting goggles and a respirator these are of limited use) and distributing hand sanitizer with minimum 60% alcohol.
Secondly, develop a crisis response plan to handle the eventuality that an employee has been diagnosed with Covid-19. This needs to cover quarantine for confirmed infected cases as well as a plan to test and potentially quarantine other employees. Health experts believe that an individual who spends 15 minutes within a 2 metre radius of someone who is infected is likely to contract the virus. During quarantine, occupational health teams need to continue to gather information on positive and negative diagnoses and if possible, address potential mental health issues. Health surveillance software from a vendor like Enterprise Health greatly facilitates data management. They also need a post-quarantine return to work protocol. Medical research indicates that even asymptomatic cases can infect other people for 21 days.
Thirdly, as soon as quarantine efforts kick in, occupational health practitioners need to consider business continuity issues. Even though the estimated fatality rate of 2% is 20 times higher than flu, it will clearly not be possible for workers and employers to follow quarantine procedures for an unlimited amount of time. Therefore, beyond the current prevention and quarantine measures, occupational health leaders need a business continuity plan that assumes Covid-19 is endemic. This should include ongoing communications about symptoms, the provision of home-testing kits and Covid-19 infection support services. Occupational health management software from ProcessMAP is designed to integrate with other business applications which ties employee health management into broader operational excellence processes.