Everyone’s talking about this frightening and dangerous illness. Here’s how to keep employees safe and calm their fears.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar has declared a public health emergency for the entire country to aid response to the coronavirus. While only a few people in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus, it is causing concern and even panic. Now is the time to revisit your infection control policies, programs, and procedures to ensure that employees, residents, and others are protected. Then share this information with your teams so that they are confident about your ability to address this issue.
Start by appointing a senior-level individual who can collect data/information and communicate across the organization. If new plans, efforts, or changes to policies are required, this person should be able to develop a strategy and gather a team. Make sure everyone involved knows what is expected of them and what deadlines are involved. Support for these efforts needs to come from the top of the organization.
Remind all employees about basic disease prevention measures, such as handwashing protocols and proper hygiene. Encourage workers to stay home if they aren’t feeling well and to contact a practitioner immediately if they have symptoms (such as fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath). Post a notice instructing visitors, vendors, and others to stay away or reschedule appointments/visits if they are ill.
Of course, it is important to limit all announcements and communications to the facts—and not to create or contribute to panic and fears. Your efforts should be designed to reassure your staff and reinforce your current efforts to limit the spread of infectious diseases.
In his recent announcement, Azar said, “While this virus poses a serious public health threat, the risk to the American public remains low at this time, and we are working to keep this risk low.” The emergency declaration gives state, tribal, and local health departments more flexibility to request that HHS authorize them to temporarily reassign personnel to address the coronavirus. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with state health departments on disease surveillance, contact tracing, and providing interim guidance for clinicians on identifying and treating coronavirus infections.
It will be helpful to have some fact sheets and other information about the coronavirus you can share with employees. Fortunately, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. CDC has numerous resources you can download and share.