ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Amid mounting concerns about the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released interim guidance for businesses and employers to plan for and respond to any potential widespread community outbreaks in the United States of respiratory illnesses, which also include the seasonal influenza that is ongoing across the country.
As of Wednesday, there were 59 people with confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in the United States, and all but 17 of them are people who were evacuated to the U.S. from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that had been quarantined off the coast of Japan, the Washington Post reports. CDC officials, however, expect to see the number of cases rise.
“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but more really a question of when it will happen—and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC told reporters during a briefing Tuesday.
At this point, it’s unclear how the COVID-19 virus is spreading, the CDC points out, and current knowledge is “largely based on what is known about similar coronaviruses.” For workers in non-health-care settings, the CDC said the immediate health risk would be considered low in the event of an outbreak.
Much of what the agency is recommending falls under what’s considered good hygiene in general. These include things like making sure to wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes and be vigilant in cleaning common surfaces in the workplace.
The CDC also stresses that businesses should encourage sick employees to remain at home until they are fever-free for 24 hours without using fever-reducing meds—and waive any requirements for a doctor’s note as local medical facilities may be overwhelmed. The agency also asks that employers be flexible in allowing their staff to stay home to care for family members who may be ill.
In the event of a widespread COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the CDC says that employees with confirmed cases of COVID-19 or a family member with a confirmed infection should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance on how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. The CDC recommends that employers inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but keep the information confidential as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance to assess their potential exposure.
NACS is monitoring developments in the U.S. In July 2019, NACS launched an emergency preparedness toolkit to help convenience retailers with disaster planning, preparation and recovery.
“The 24/7 convenience and fuel retailing industry is well-versed in emergency preparations, and some of the same best practices we employ in the face of hurricanes and other hazards, for example, can be applied to operations in the face of a national health crisis,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic communications.
- Disaster and Emergency Preparedness resource page
- NACS Convenience Store Emergency Planning and Job Aids include a plan evaluation document and Job Aids of tasks and checklists for store employees to perform during emergency and disaster planning and recovery. The guide and individual job aids aren’t hazard-specific and several can be used by retailers in pandemic scenarios.
- CDC updates are available here.
- CDC interim guidance for businesses is available here.
- Food and Drug Administration Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) page.
- National Retailing Foundations resources are available here.
- Johns Hopkins Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases dashboard
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration resources are here.