The world health community continues to monitor closely the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, named "coronavirus disease 2019" (COVID-19). At this time, no one knows how severe this outbreak will be. Given this uncertainty, and the fact that the seasonal influenza (flu) virus is also widespread, everyone should be proactive in taking steps to protect themselves and maintain a safe environment.
COVID-19 has implications for multiple workplace concerns, including health and safety, leaves of absence, discrimination, and travel. Employers can do three things:
1. Keep informed of the facts and recommended practices as advised by the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), applicable country or state-specific public health sites, and occupational health consultants;
2. Understand the potential legal issues that may arise and the guiding legal principles, and seek legal advice as needed; and
3. Consider business risk and make prudent business decisions within the context of available information and legal obligations.
What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.
Can people in the U.S. get COVID-19?
Yes. COVID-19 is spreading from person to person in parts of the United States. Risk of infection with COVID-19 is higher for people who are close contacts of someone known to have COVID-19, for example healthcare workers, or household members. Other people at higher risk for infection are those who live in or have recently been in an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19. Learn more about places with ongoing spread at
Have there been cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.?
Yes. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020. The current count of cases of COVID-19 in the United States is available on CDC’s webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html.
How does COVID-19 spread?
The virus that causes COVID-19 probably emerged from an animal source, but is now spreading from person to person. The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It also may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of
SHORTNESS OF BREATH
What are severe complications from this virus?
Some patients have pneumonia in both lungs, multi-organ failure and in some cases death.
WHAT CAN YOU DO:
Clean your hands often
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact
Avoid close contact with people who are sickPut distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
Take steps to protect others
Stay home if you’re sick
Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Learn what to do if you are sick.
Cover coughs and sneezes
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.Throw used tissues in the trash.Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Wear a facemask if you are sick
If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room. Learn what to do if you are sick.
If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.
Clean and disinfect
Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
How can I help protect myself?
People can help protect themselves from respiratory illness with everyday preventive actions.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
If you are sick, to keep from spreading respiratory illness to others, you should
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
What should you do if you recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19?
If you have traveled from an affected area, there may be restrictions on your movements for up to 2 weeks. If you develop symptoms during that period (fever, cough, trouble breathing), seek medical advice. Call the office of your health care provider before you go, and tell them about your travel and your symptoms. They will give you instructions on how to get care without exposing other people to your illness. While sick, avoid contact with people, don’t go out and delay any travel to reduce the possibility of spreading illness to others.
Is there a vaccine?
There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to take everyday preventive actions, like avoiding close contact with people who are sick and washing your hands often.
Is there a treatment?
There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 can seek medical care to help relieve symptoms.
For more information: www.cdc.gov/COVID19
Wage replacement resources are available for workers:
Wage Replacement Options
Two state agencies employers should be paying attention to right now are the Labor Commissioner’s Office in the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), which handles how employees are paid; and the Employment Development Department (EDD), which handles wage replacement, such as state disability insurance and paid family leave.
The DLSE has created a Frequently Asked Questions page employers can turn to. It features answers to questions such as, “Can an employee use California Paid Sick Leave due to COVID-19 Illness?” and “Can an employer require a worker who is quarantined to exhaust paid sick leave?”
Yes, an employee can use California Paid Sick Leave if he/she has the time; and no, an employer cannot require a worker to use her/his sick time—it’s the worker’s choice. If sick time is used, the employer can require a worker takes a minimum of 2 hours of paid sick leave per workday, but the worker determines how much time will be used.
Here is the FAQ page is available at: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/2019-Novel-Coronavirus.htm.
California has expanded its paid family leave and disability benefits to workers affected by the COVID-19 virus. Paid family leave is available to those who are certified by a medical professional to be sick with COVID-19, or are caring for a family member who is certified by a medical professional to be sick with COVID-19.
Employers should put together a plan in case their office building closes due to an outbreak or if a worker becomes ill with the COVID-19 virus. For some businesses, this may mean allowing employers to work remotely or closing the office to wait it out. Another state agency providing resources to employers is the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), Frank says. The agency has published guidance and fact sheets
on the requirements employers from varying industries must protect workers from the Coronavirus.
More information is available at: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/Health-Care-General-Industry.html.
The California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) has compiled helpful information for employers and employees. For more information, visit: https://business.ca.gov/coronavirus-2019/.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have provided an “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan, Prepare and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019”. Here is the link. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html
Be proactive in taking measures to protect yourself, your employees, and all those you have contact with!