COVID-19: Applying Lessons Learned from China
TAG continues to track the COVID-19 situation. Please see our daily updates for more information. But, with COVID-19 continuing its spread around the world and increasing numbers of cases in the US, it is critical that countries, businesses, and consumers learn all that they can, not only from the health professionals and researchers working with the virus, but also from those who have been through it – i.e., China.
Learning was the precise intent of a recent World Health Organization (WHO) mission to China. The mission was initiated to assess and learn from the county’s coronavirus containment efforts. From the visit, the Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) was generated.
With a key finding that “China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic,” the report included lessons that can be applied around the world – by governments, businesses, and individuals – to respond to and limit the spread of the virus.
While we recognize that China has capabilities that the rest of the world does not, there were some good points from the report that can help us manage the COVID-19 outbreak in the US. The report provided five recommendations to countries “with imported cases.” These include:
Immediate activation of the highest level of national Response Management protocols to ensure the all-of-government and all-of-society approach needed to contain COVID-19 with non-pharmaceutical public health measures.
Prioritize active, exhaustive case finding and immediate testing and isolation, painstaking contact tracing and rigorous quarantine of close contacts.
Fully educate the general public on the seriousness of COVID-19 and their role in preventing its spread.
Immediately expand surveillance to detect COVID-19 transmission chains, by testing all patients with atypical pneumonia, conducting screening in some patients with upper respiratory illnesses and/or recent COVID-19 exposure, and adding testing for the COVID-19 virus to existing surveillance systems (e.g., systems for influenza-like-illness and SARI).
Conduct multi-sector scenario planning and simulations for the deployment of even more stringent measures to interrupt transmission chains as needed (e.g. the suspension of large-scale gatherings and the closure of schools and workplaces).
Clearly these recommendations are not directed at the food industry specifically; however, the report also included four recommendations for the public. With the TAG perspective on how to apply the leaning in your workplace, these include:
Recognize that while COVID-19 is a new and concerning disease, outbreaks can be managed with the right response, and that the vast majority of infected people will recover. While the spread of COVID-19 is serious and the effects can be life-threatening for some, the majority of cases are mild. To protect the public, especially those who have less tolerance, it is critical to manage the outbreaks to limit spread and its resulting individual, business, and global impacts. In some cases or areas, this will require extensive action; but in areas where the virus has not become dominant, practical cautions, including those listed below, will likely be sufficient.
Begin now to adopt and rigorously practice the most important preventive measures for COVID-19: frequent hand washing and always covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing. Although coronavirus is seen by some of the less-informed as being “unreal” or a “another thing to distract us from what’s really going on in politics and around the world” (yes, we have heard those very comments), it is important for areas (and disbelieving individuals) that have not yet been closely affected to heighten their hygienic practices. Regular handwashing and covering when coughing or sneezing are certainly not new recommendations, but it is expedient for businesses to place an even greater emphasis on these practices for both self-protection and limiting spread.
Continually update yourself on COVID-19 and its signs and symptoms (i.e. fever and dry cough), because the strategies and response activities will constantly improve as new information on this disease is accumulating every day. We have learned a great deal about COVID-19 and the coronavirus family of viruses, but there is also a lot that we don’t know and a lot that we are learning each day – about the virus, its potential spread, and strategies and responses. How far will it spread in the U.S.? Will we all be working from home, ordering groceries online, and attending virtual conferences? Or will our efforts contain the virus, limiting it to a few hot points? Addressing those questions with the most relevant, current information is precisely why TAG has developed an online COVID-19 Resources page and daily emailed updates to subscribers.
Be prepared to actively support a response to COVID-19 in a variety of ways, including the adoption of more stringent “social distancing” practices and helping the high-risk elderly population. The WHO, CDC, and states where the coronavirus is most extensive are continually updating their recommendations for the public with the intent to contain the virus as much as possible. From recommending the cancellation of public events, particularly those that are large scale, to the shifting of university classes to online to only, to recommendations for those at higher risk, the advice changes based on location and personal health. Thus, it is important to keep an eye on the guidelines from your local area, and those to which you are planning travel, as well as the nation as a whole.
Just as one of China’s primary defense against the spread of the virus was containment, so, too, is that a key focus of the WHO Report, with, as the report states, the time gained by the containment measures “used more effectively to urgently enhance global readiness and rapidly develop the specific tools that are needed to ultimately stop this virus.”
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About The Acheson Group (TAG)
Led by Former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG's team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance. www.AchesonGroup.com