As the number of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) cases exceeds the 100,000 mark in over 70 countries1 including six out of seven continents, employers the world over are putting in place plans to prepare for the risk of an employee becoming exposed to or ill with the virus.
This MAXIS article aims to provide multinational organisations with operations in high risk areas and in places where COVID-19 has been recently detected with guidance on how to handle the challenging issues during this time. This is an update to the information given in our newsletter sent on 7 February 2020.
The following interim guidance may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, in non-healthcare setting. The guidance also provides planning consideration if there are more widespread, community outbreaks of COVID-192.
How COVID-19 spreads
When someone who has COVID-19 coughs or exhales they release droplets of infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects – such as desks, tables or telephones. People could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects – and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. If they are standing within one metre of a person with COVID-19 they can catch it by breathing in these droplets.
In other words, COVID-19 spreads in a similar way to flu. Most people infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and recover. However, some go on to experience more serious illness and may require hospital care. The risk of serious illness rises with age: people over 40 seem to be more vulnerable than those under 40. People with weakened immune systems or with conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness.
Simple ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace
The low-cost measures listed below will help prevent the spread of infections in your workplace, such as colds, flu and stomach bugs, and protect your customers, contractors and employees.
You should start doing these things now, even if COVID-19 has not arrived in the communities where you operate. You can already reduce working days lost due to illness and stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 if it arrives at one of your workplaces.
- Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic – contamination on surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads.
- Surfaces (e.g. desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly.
- Promote regular and thorough handwashing by employees, contractors and customers – washing kills the virus on your hands and prevents the spread of COVID-19.
- Make sure that staff, contractors and customers have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water.
- Put sanitising hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled.
- Display posters promoting handwashing – ask your local public health authority for these or look on the World Health Organizations website www.WHO.int.
- Combine this with other communications such as offering guidance from occupational health and safety officers, briefings at meetings and information on the intranet to promote handwashing.
- Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace – good respiratory hygiene prevents the spread of COVID-19.
- Ensure that face masks and / or paper tissues are available at your workplaces, for those who develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically disposing of them.
- Display posters promoting respiratory hygiene. Combine this with other communications such as offering guidance from occupational health and safety officers, briefing at meetings and information on the intranet etc.
- Brief your employees, contractors and customers.
- If COVID-19 starts spreading in your community anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3C or more) needs to stay at home.
- They should also stay home (or work from home) if they have had to take simple medications, such as paracetamol/acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, which may mask symptoms of infection.
Things to consider when you and your employees travel
- Before traveling
- Make sure you and your employees have the latest information on areas where COVID-19 is spreading. You can find this here.
- Based on the latest information, you should assess the benefits and risks related to upcoming travel plans.
- Avoid sending employees who may be at higher risk of serious illness (e.g. older employees and those with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease) to areas where COVID-19 is spreading.
- Make sure all persons travelling to locations reporting COVID-19 are briefed by a qualified professional (e.g. staff health services, health care provider or local public health partner).
- Consider issuing employees who are about to travel with small bottles (under 100CL) of alcohol-based hand rub. This can facilitate regular handwashing.
- While travelling
- Encourage employees to wash their hands regularly and stay at least one metre away from people who are coughing or sneezing.
- Ensure employees know what to do and who to contact if they feel ill while travelling.
- Ensure that your employees comply with instructions from local authorities where they are travelling. If, for example, they are told by local authorities not to go somewhere they should comply with this. Your employees should comply with any local restrictions on travel, movement or large gatherings.
- When you or your employees return from travelling
- Employees who have returned from an area where COVID-19 is spreading should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days and take their temperature twice a day.
- If they develop even a mild cough or low-grade fever (i.e. a temperature of 37.3 C or more) they should stay at home and self-isolate. This means avoiding close contact (one metre or nearer) with other people, including family members. They should also telephone their healthcare provider or the local public health department, giving them details of their recent travel and symptoms.
Answers to most common questions3
What is a coronavirus?
It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. A coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
How worried should I be?
New outbreaks in Asia, Europe and the Middle East are renewing fears of a global pandemic.
How do I keep myself and others safe?
Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
What if I’m traveling?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned older and at-risk travellers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all non-essential travel to South Korea and China.
Is a mask sufficient to protect me on an airplane?
The WHO says that if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of someone with a suspected coronavirus infection. The organization also suggests wearing the mask if you are the person sneezing or coughing. Masks are only effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water,” the WHO says in its guide about how to best choose a mask, use it and dispose of it.
The type of mask also makes a difference. An N95 mask reduces a wearer’s exposure to airborne particles, from small particle aerosols to large droplets, according to the CDC, which has a guide for understanding the differences between a regular surgical mask and an N95 respirator.
How can I prepare for a possible outbreak?
Keep a 30-day supply of essential medicines. Get a flu shot. Have essential household items on hand. Have a support system in place for elderly family members.
Where has the virus spread?
The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 90,000 people in at least 70 countries, across six continents.
How contagious is the virus?
According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
Recommended strategies for employers to use now4
To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, use the guidance described below to determine the risk of COVID-19. Do not try to make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity and other features of COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing.
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay at home
- Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay at home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4F / 37.8C or greater using an oral thermometer) or any signs of a fever. They must also be free of any other symptoms for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
- Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
- Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
- Separate sick employees
- Emphasise staying at home with posters that encourage staying home when sick at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
The CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival at work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
- No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
- Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
- Additional measures for dealing with sporadic inicdences of COVID-19
- Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required. Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
Now is the time to prepare for COVID-19. Simple precautions and planning can make a big difference. Action now will help protect your employees and your business.
This document has been prepared by MAXIS GBN and is for informational purposes only – it does not constitute advice. MAXIS GBN has made every effort to ensure that the information contained in this document has been obtained from reliable sources, but cannot guarantee accuracy or completeness. The information contained in this document may be subject to change at any time without notice. Any reliance you place on this information is therefore strictly at your own risk. This document is strictly private and confidential, and should not be copied, distributed or reproduced in whole or in part, or passed to any third party.
The MAXIS Global Benefits Network (“Network”) is a network of locally licensed MAXIS member insurance companies (“Members”) founded by AXA France Vie, Paris, France (AXA) and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, New York, NY (MLIC). MAXIS GBN, registered with ORIAS under number 16000513, and with its registered office at 313, Terrasses de l’Arche – 92 727 Nanterre Cedex, France, is an insurance and reinsurance intermediary that promotes the Network. MAXIS GBN is jointly owned by affiliates of AXA and MLIC and does not issue policies or provide insurance; such activities are carried out by the Members. MAXIS GBN operates in the UK through UK establishment with its registered address at 1st Floor, The Monument Building, 11 Monument Street, London EC3R 8AF, Establishment Number BR018216 and in other European countries on a services basis. MAXIS GBN operates in the U.S. through MetLife Insurance Brokerage, Inc., with its address at 200 Park Avenue, NY, NY, 10166, a NY licensed insurance broker. MLIC is the only Member licensed to transact insurance business in NY. The other Members are not licensed or authorised to do business in NY and the policies and contracts they issue have not been approved by the NY Superintendent of Financial Services, are not protected by the NY state guaranty fund, and are not subject to all of the laws of NY.
1 https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/, sourced on 6 March 2020
2 https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/getting-workplace-ready-for-covid-19.pdf, sourced on 28 February 2020
3 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/travel/coronavirus-advisory.html, sourced on 28 Feb 2020
4 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html. Sourced 28 Feb 2020.