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Recently, we’ve all been exposed to a great deal of information on the newest member of Coronaviruses, COVID-19, that is making its way around the globe. Part of a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold, to more severe respiratory infections, COVID-19 does share similar symptoms with more common influenzas, but there are also some differences to pay attention to as well. While there is good reason to take precautionary measures, it is important to not panic. This notice includes information on COVID-19, precautionary measures, and helpful resources for your organization.
COVID-19 is a virus that can be transmitted between humans by either touching a contaminated surface and then touching the mouth, eyes, or nose, or by breathing air with droplets expelled by an infected individual. Like influenza in this regard, COVID-19 differs in that, it is thought that droplets may remain airborne longer than the standard flu, which increases the transmission rate; that is, the likelihood of it being spread. It is important to note that, with proper precautionary measures, we can all limit our exposure as well as the transmission rate if we become infected.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are symptoms associated with COVID-19?
A: Common symptoms associated with COVID-19 infection include respiratory symptoms. 67.7% of patients report a dry cough, which is non-productive of mucus or phlegm. Also reported are fevers, ranging from low to high, as well as shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, chest pains, or even muscle aches. Diarrhea and vomiting are possible, although these are rare symptoms. Depending on an individual’s health, these symptoms may be less or more serious.
Q: What makes COVID-19 more contagious than the common flu?
A: The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can linger in the air for at least 30 minutes and travel up to 15 feet. It can last for days on surfaces where infected respiratory droplets land and depending on the temperature and type of surface, it could last 2-3 days on glass, metal, plastic, fabric, or paper. Scientists are still monitoring how contagious it is, but the current estimate of the reproduction number (the estimated number of people the virus is spread to, from one person) is between 2 and 2.5. Whereas, the seasonal flu is about 1.3.
Q: Who is especially at risk?
A: Senior populations are more at risk, as well as individuals that have compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses such as: respiratory illnesses, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or HIV/AIDS. It’s important to know that most COVID-19 patients have shown minor symptoms and are able to fight off the illness without hospitalization.
Q: What is the best way to protect my organization?
A: Protecting your organization and your employees begins with communication and disseminating precautionary measures such as: handwashing, limiting close contact with people showing signs of illness, covering sneezes and coughs, and encouraging employees to remain at home if they feel symptoms categorized by COVID-19. It’s also important to provide methods of disinfecting such as: alcohol-based cleansers, hand sanitizer, and make sure your soap dispensers are functional and full. Having a contingency plan in place on continuity of business operations and devolution of authority, should someone in leadership become infected and unable to function in a leadership capacity. Organizations may want to limit non-essential travel, to reduce the possibility of the spread of the virus.
It’s also important to remind employees that any information regarding medical conditions must remain strictly confidential and that employees will not suffer retaliatory actions for reporting infections, illness, or a request for family or medical leave.
Q: What are some tips regarding sanitation of work areas?
A: Particular attention to high touch areas (copiers, doorknobs, light switches, keyboards) shared by employees and/or public should be first priority. It’s important to clean the surface of visible soil first, then apply sanitation cleansers/disinfectant on a visibly clean surface. Alcohol based cleanser, or a 1:30 mixture of bleach/water can be used.
Q: Is there a sample template or memo to notify employees of what your organization is doing to ensure a safe workplace?
A: With a SHRM membership, you may access a sample memo entitled: “Memo: Coronavirus and Flu Prevention” at www.shrm.org.
Q: Can an employer send an employee home who it suspects has symptoms?
A: Possibly; it depends on each organization’s policy. If your organization has adopted POOL/PACT HR’s sample policy, “Placing an Employee on Sick Leave,” then your organization may place an employee on sick leave if s/he has an illness that appears to be contagious or due to a known or suspected illness or injury, and/or the employee is not able to perform the essential functions of their position with or without reasonable accommodation. (See POOL/PACT HR’s Sample Large Organization Policies 6.3.1(5); Sample Small Organization Policies 5.3.1(5); Sample School District Policies GBC1(2).) Employers are also advised to check their collective bargaining agreements.
Q: What if an employee refuses to seek medical attention due to out of pocket costs?
A: Let your employee know Governor Sisolak declared an Emergency Declaration by (NRS 679B.130 and 233B.0613) on March 5, 2020, prohibiting a health insurer from imposing an out-of-pocket cost for a provider office, urgent care center, or emergency room visit when the purpose is to test for COVID-19.
Q: Do I have to pay quarantined employees?
A: For non-exempt employees, no. For exempt employees, yes. Exempt employees’ pay cannot be reduced due to quality or quantity of work. Thus, if any work was performed within the course of a workweek, they must be paid for the entire week; however, paid leave can be used to supplement time in which the employee was not working. For example: An exempt employee works Monday, then is quarantined from Tuesday through Friday; s/he must be paid his/her normal salary for the workweek but may be charged sick or annual leave time for quarantined time.
Some other considerations: It may be beneficial to employees and the organization to compensate employees who must stay home due to a quarantine. This will encourage folks who are ill to stay away from the workplace and will reduce the transmission of the virus. Also consider employees ability to telecommute, that is, work from home during a localized outbreak. If there are duties that can be completed outside of the workplace, this will not only help the continuity of business, but will also help the morale and financial stability of the workforce.
Q: Can an employee file a Workers’ Compensation claim for COVID-19?
A: Absolutely. Employees should not be discouraged from filing a Form C-1 for a potential workplace transmission of COVID-19. Encourage them to complete the Form C-1 and follow normal claim filing procedures. Typically, the transmission would need to be proven by causation and a documented exposure, although this will all be handled by the workers’ compensation claims adjuster with a medical investigation.
Q: Can FMLA be taken with COVID-19 infections?
A: Possibly; if the employee is independently eligible, coronavirus may be a qualifying reason for leave under the Act. Employers should follow normal procedures.
Q: What are my OSHA obligations?
A: Employers must comply with the General Duty Clause 29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(a)1: Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." Please see: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/standards.html for more information.
Given that this coronavirus may be more easily transmitted and potentially more serious than the average, seasonal flu, it is especially important for everyone to take responsibility in reducing the spread of this virus. Stressing to your employees the importance of proper handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes with a flexed elbow or tissue (discarded immediately afterward), keeping a safe distance from individuals displaying signs of illness, as well as remaining at home if symptoms are present are all important to reduce the spread of the illness. Organizations should have contingency plans in place to ensure the continuity of business and staffing. Having a designated collaborative planning team, with experts involved, is essential to ensure proper preparation. It’s important to have redundant measures of factual communication, internally and externally, to avoid confusion and misinformation; this is more easily handled if an organization designates a Public Information Officer. It really is up to everyone to limit the spread of this virus and the impact that it will have on our community’s health resources. Additional resources are listed below.
CDC, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Guidance for Businesses and Employers: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html
CDC, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) What Law Enforcement Personnel Need to Know about Coronavirus Disease 2019: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-law-enforcement.html
CDC, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Interim Guidance for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems and 911 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for COVID 19 in United States: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-for-ems.html
CDC, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) What to do if you are sick: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/steps-when-sick.html
OSHA, COVID-19 Overview: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/
U.S. Department of Education, COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel: https://www.ed.gov/coronavirus