Do You Have a COVID-19 Response Plan in Place?
Today, managing the COVID-19 risk is about reducing person-to-person transmission and having a good plan to protect your workforce and maintain operations. Throughout this situation, a great deal has been communicated about self-protection and reducing the spread of COVID-19 through the implementation of worker policies on handwashing, staying home when sick, observing and staying updated on national and international travel restrictions. From all that, you have likely set policies and informed workers on these (if not, you should do so immediately) – but is your business prepared for the continued spread and potential impacts of COVID-19? Do you have an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan?
Despite the declaration of the virus as a pandemic by WHO, the full severity of illness or how many people will fall ill is still unknown at this time, but we know it is going to get worse before it gets better. With COVID-19 infections rising at a rapid rate across the U.S., businesses need to ensure they have plans to be able to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity – and be prepared to refine their plans as needed.
To aid in this, and based on what is currently known about COVID-19, CDC issued interim guidance for businesses and employers, which includes the creation of an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan to protect the workforce while ensuring continuity of operations. Recommendations for the development of an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan, based on CDC guidance, updates, and TAG’s advice, include:
Assemble a development team. It can be beneficial to involve employees and managers from various departments in developing and reviewing your plan
Identify possible work-related exposure and employee health risks, but ensure you are not making any risk determinations based on race or country of origin and maintain confidentiality of anyone with confirmed COVID-19.
Review your human resources policies to ensure that they, and related practices, are consistent with public health recommendations and state and federal workplace laws.
With social distancing being recommended by health authorities, explore the potential of alternate work practices, such as work-from-home, staggered shifts, etc., to increase the physical distance between employees and others. For employees who are able to work-from-home, this should be encouraged until symptoms are completely resolved.
Develop plans to also minimize exposure between employees and the public.
If you’ve not done so already, test your information technology and infrastructure to determine its ability to support multiple employees working from home.
Identify essential business functions, essential jobs or roles, and critical elements within your supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics) required to maintain business operations. Plan for how your business will operate if there is increasing absenteeism or these supply chains are interrupted.
Set up authorities, triggers, and procedures for activating and terminating the company’s infectious disease outbreak response plan, altering business operations (e.g., changing or closing operations in affected areas), and transferring business knowledge to key employees. Work closely with your local health officials to identify triggers.
Establish a process to communicate information to employees and business partners on the initiation of outbreak response plan actions, as well as the latest COVID-19 information. Anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly.
Determine how you will operate if absenteeism spikes from increases in school closures, sick employees, and employees caring for sick family members. Develop and implement a flexible workplace and leave policies for these employees.
Before local health authorities make decisions on community-level strategies, take the time to learn about plans that are in place in each community where you have a business.
With travel restrictions continually being updated for the U.S. and other countries, be sure you stay updated on these and CDC travel guidance. Consider canceling large work-related meetings or events and non-essential travel, particularly international travel, as restrictions could limit the ability of employees to return home if they become sick while on travel status.
Engage state and local health departments to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information. When working with your local health department check their available hours.
Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to determine ahead of implementation if it has gaps or problems that need to be corrected.
Share the plan with employees, explaining the human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits that will be available to them.
Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts.
As the food industry knows from its development of food safety and food defense plans, the development of a thorough, effective, and implementable plan is not easy. The TAG team has been working with many businesses on COVID-19 understanding, preparation and Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan. Give us a call; we can help you develop a plan or assess your existing Response Plan specific to the COVID-19 situation.
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