UPDATED: Jan. 21, 2020
What is the condition of your pandemic plan these days? Given the current outbreak of the new novel coronavirus that is spreading in Asia, it might be a good time to brush it off!
Chinese authorities first identified the new coronavirus – known as 2019nCoV – which has resulted in close to 300 confirmed human infections in China with several deaths reported. A number of countries, including the United States, have been actively screening incoming travelers from Wuhan and exported human infections with the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in Thailand, Japan, and The Republic of Korea icon. The United States announced their first infection with 2019-nCoV detected in a traveler returning from Wuhan, Jan. 21 in the state of Washington.
For continued updates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html
The World Health Organization (WHO) is following the coronavirus here: https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus
The CDC is on full alert and performing health screenings in key entry airports into the United States.
The current situation follows two other recent coronavirus outbreaks:
- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) outbreak in 2003, with 774 deaths and over 8,000 cases reported in 37 countries.
- Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) in 2012 to present day with 449 deaths and over 1,200 cases reported in 26 countries.
When you pull out your old pandemic plan to review or are creating a new one from scratch, take a moment to rethink the plan and how it can be more helpful in more disease situations, not just the “once-in-a-blue-moon” event such as a global pandemic. There is a more useful way to view this important document – as an “all-purpose” disease plan rather than just a global pandemic guide. Consider making an infectious disease and pandemic guide.
There are two major reasons for converting a pandemic plan into a combination infectious disease and pandemic plan. A combination plan:
- can emphasize that diseases, by their very nature, are local and can impact your business/region;
- can highlight that common diseases can severely impact your business and are far more likely to happen. A disease doesn’t have to be something “unusual” to cause problems running your organization.
In recent times we have had major outbreaks of these common illnesses in communities, schools and businesses:
- whooping cough
- influenza flu
- drug-resistant tuberculosis.
First, let’s make sure we are all speaking the same language. A few definitions:
- Infectious diseases are caused by pathogenic microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi; the diseases can be spread, directly or indirectly, from one person to another.
- Pandemic: A disease outbreak occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population.
- Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases of animals that can cause disease when transmitted to humans.
The current 2019nCoV threat is currently both an infectious and zoonotic disease – hopefully, it doesn’t evolve into a pandemic!
Disease Plans Are Different
Disease plans are much different than a business continuity or crisis management plan. Why? These plans should be written without specifics about what should be done for each possible illness. This is because diseases can shift and change; what works or is done today may not be appropriate when an outbreak occurs. Medical treatments and preventive measures change based on the disease morphing. Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, you do not control your destiny or your responses in a serious disease outbreak. The local department of public health is the controlling authority. They have the ability to invoke public health law, which allows them to control your response and they can and will issue instructions, orders and dictates (as necessary) based on the illness.
Plan Goals and Objectives
Here are some basic considerations to consider when developing or revamping your plan. What are the overall goals and objectives for the plan? The goals might be:
- to indicate the action required to overcome or minimize an infectious disease incident;
- to delineate responsibilities and procedures to address an infectious disease incident.
Your plan objectives might be:
- if possible, to eliminate the transmission of an infectious agent at the workplace, or, if elimination is not possible, reduce the transmission of the infectious agent;
- decrease illness among employees, contractors and visitors;
- maintain mission-critical business activities;
- reduce the economic impact of an infectious disease outbreak.
What should you expect to see in a good infectious disease and pandemic guide? Here are the highlights:
- general planning assumptions
- pandemic planning scenarios including limited localized outbreak, regional and national or international
- pre-outbreak preparation and planning:
- when there is no current risk;
- if there is a threat detected;
- plan activation:
- local phased response activations based on impact and severity.
Lastly the plan should have appropriate plan appendices which cover:
- business continuity:
- BIA assessment
- employee categorization;
- HVAC guidelines
- human resources:
- employee education
- compensation and benefits
- draft guidelines;
- crisis management team:
- leadership continuity
- virtual command centers;
- maintenance and janitorial:
- respiratory hygiene:
- safety and security:
- lobby policies
- emergency response team procedures;
- draft policies.
Infectious diseases can break out at any time. In this day and age where vaccination levels are at an all-time low in some countries and regions, it is only a matter of time before an employee comes into your office advising you of their symptoms after returning from a trip abroad, or the local health department calls you to notify you that you have an employee in your call center with measles or the 2019nCoV outbreak turns into a deadly global pandemic strain.
Get started now!