Healthcare organizations around the globe are closely monitoring the continued spread of a deadly respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. While officials generally express optimism that the virus will be controlled, they also acknowledge the need to prepare for the worst-case scenario of a global pandemic.

Businesses and employers should also prepare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

A pandemic is defined as a worldwide spread of a new disease, but the CDC, the World Health Organization and other health agencies say the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t reached that level yet. The potential is there, however. Since originating in China, the virus has now spread to more than two dozen countries.

Pandemic planning should be an element of every organization’s business continuity plan. The plan helps employers, employees and partners understand what they should do to maintain operations during the outbreak of highly infectious illnesses. Here are some of the actions the CDC recommends:

Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. Employees with symptoms should not come to work until they are free of fever and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines such as cough suppressants. Employees who develop symptoms after arriving at work should be sent home immediately.

Evaluate your sick leave policies. Human resources should evaluate company sick leave policies and practices to ensure they are consistent with public health recommendations as well as state and federal workplace laws. Explore the use of telecommuting and other flexible work practices such as staggered shifts to limit potential exposure among employees. HR will need to work with IT to make sure teleworkers have the tools they need to work from home.

Identify the essentials. Assign an individual or team to coordinate pandemic responses. They should create a list of essential staff, services and functions necessary to continue operations in the event that an illness causes high levels of absenteeism. Cross train employees to ensure someone is prepared to take over essential functions or tasks if needed.

Prepare for supply chain interruptions. Most organizations rely on a series of third-party partners to maintain business operations. The temporary loss of raw materials, subcontractor services, transportation, equipment and other critical resources can bring your operations to a halt. Your plan should include a list of alternate suppliers and sources for essential needs.

Communicate effectively. Fear, anxiety, rumors and misinformation can cripple your ability to continue operations during a pandemic. Establish an emergency communications plan and ensure you have up-to-date contact information, including email addresses and mobile phone numbers. Establish ongoing communication with state and local health officials to gather timely and accurate information to share with your people.

Unlike fire, weather events and other natural disasters, an infectious disease isn’t likely to cause any physical damage to your facilities or infrastructure. However, it can quickly derail your operations through prolonged illness and absenteeism among key employees, partners and suppliers. If you need help creating a pandemic plan, give us a call. We can work with you to establish strategies, priorities, policies and technologies for maintaining operations in the event of a health crisis.