- "Now is the time" for businesses, schools and others to begin preparing for possible spread of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official said in a Feb. 25 media briefing.
- "Businesses can replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options," Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a conference call.
- For the U.S. general public, the immediate health risk from the virus is considered low, according to the CDC's situation summary, but "[t]he potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States."
CDC and other public health organizations have gradually increased the alarm around the outbreak. On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a "public health emergency of international concern" and on Jan. 31, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency.
Employers looking to manage this risk should be wary of their response in light of two federal laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to one expert.
Companies should make sure Chinese employees or Americans of Chinese origin are not discriminated against in the fervor to prevent the spread or contraction of this disease. If a worker has recently traveled to China, however, it may be reasonable to ask the person to refrain from coming into the office for 14 days — the incubation period for the virus.
To avoid internal overreaction, employers can offer similar precautions and guidance as they would to prevent the spread of influenza, such as encouraging employees to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer and other hygiene-related activities.
Employers can also advise workers to stay home if they are feeling ill, which can be a problem as a recent Accountemps survey found 90% of employees go into the office when they're unwell.
Organizational leaders can keep up with updates from the WHO, CDC, local health officials and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has provided general tips pertaining to OSHA standards as well as guidance for companies that may have higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their industries or other reasons.