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March 03, 2020

Coronavirus: Epidemic Risk Management in the Workplace

A new strain of coronavirus, now named COVID-19, emerged in late 2019 and began spreading rapidly. In addition to emotional and physical suffering, COVID-19 has also caused significant business interruption. It’s a grave reminder that businesses should take epidemic risk management seriously.

COVID-19’s Impact on Business

The novel coronavirus has led to travel restrictions, quarantines and closures.

Reuters reported that Foxconn, Apple’s main iPhone maker, reopened in early February after closing due to coronavirus. However, sources have said that only about 10 percent of the workforce returned for the reopening.

Apple is far from the only company being affected by the novel coronavirus. According to MarketWatch, coronavirus has become a common issue in earning releases for many companies. Apple does not expect to meet its second-quarter financial guidance due to production issues caused by the virus. Carnival Corp. has said possible suspension of operations in Asia could impact 2020 earnings-per-share by 55 to 65 cents. Walmart Inc, Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. and many other companies also mentioned the possibly impact of the coronavirus.

How Businesses Can Plan and Respond

The CDC has issued Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease. The recommended strategies include the following:

  • Encouraging sick employees to stay home.
  • Separating and sending home sick employees who show up to work.
  • Promoting respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene and providing tissues, no-touch disposal receptacles, soap, water and alcohol-based hand rubs.
  • Routinely cleaning work areas and providing disposable wipes.
  • Checking the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices before employees travel and advising employees to take steps to necessary steps if they become sick while traveling.
  • Asking employees to notify a supervisor if a member of their household has COVID-19.
  • Informing employees of possible exposure while maintaining confidentiality, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Beyond Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus has shaken the world, and it’s still unclear exactly how bad the outbreak will become. Right now, China is the hardest hit country by far, but with cases popping up around the world, it’s possible that the infection will gain a foothold in other places.

COVID-19 isn’t the only threat, either – it’s only the most recent one. Since 2010, influenza has caused between 9 million and 45 million illnesses and 12,000 to 61,000 deaths each year, according to the CDC. Other diseases, such as Ebola, also pose an epidemic risk. Businesses should always take epidemic risk seriously.

It’s also important to note that standard insurance policies often exclude disease coverage. Don’t assume that your business has protection for business interruption and other losses caused by epidemics. Check your policies and talk to your Heffernan Insurance Brokers’ agent about securing specialty coverage.

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