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What Employers Need to Know About the Coronavirus

February 1, 2020

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a virus (more specifically, a coronavirus) identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China.  There have been at least 2,700 cases confirmed, primarily in China, and over 100 reported deaths.  12 countries have reported the Coronavirus (including the U.S., Germany, and Japan) with five positive cases and over 100 being tested in the U.S.  Reported illnesses have ranged from infected people with little to no symptoms to people being severely ill.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal Coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS and SARS.   The CDC also reported that early on many of the patients in the outbreak in Wuhan, China reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread is occurring.   The incubation period is generally two to 14 days, and the Coronavirus is extremely contagious during the incubation period.  At this time, the CDC cannot determine how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people, but it is transmitted person to person. 

Although the impact outside the U.S. has been relatively limited, the CDC is monitoring airports for travelers arriving from China and the surrounding region.  The CDC has not raised the Coronavirus to pandemic levels at this time.  

The CDC is conducting entry screening of passengers on direct and connecting flights from Wuhan, China to five major airports: Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), New York City (JFK), and San Francisco (SFO).  The CDC has also issued an updated interim Health Alert Notice (HAN) Advisory to inform state and local health departments and health care providers about this outbreak on January 17, 2020.  Finally, the CDC has deployed multidisciplinary teams to Washington, Illinois, California, and Arizona to assist health departments with clinical management, contact tracing, and communications.

Moreover, the CDC has developed a real time Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (rRT-PCR) test that can diagnose 2019-nCoV in respiratory and serum samples from clinical specimens. On January 24, 2020, the CDC publicly posted the assay protocol for this test. Currently, testing for this virus must take place at the CDC, but in the coming days and weeks, the CDC will share these tests with domestic and international partners.

China has been praised and criticized for its approach to the Coronavirus.  “The Chinese government response to the Wuhan Coronavirus crisis is like the 2003 SARS crisis, but sped up,” stated Mary Gallagher, professor of political science and director of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies. Gallagher is an expert on Chinese politics; U.S.-China relations; labor and workers in China; and employment and labor law in China. “This shows that the government realized its mistakes more quickly this time. What took months in 2003 took days in 2019. But still, for a resident of Wuhan or any large Chinese city, it must be confusing and infuriating that on the weekend the government reassured citizens that the virus did not spread between humans and was under control, and then, only four days later, the government initiated an unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and other cities.  It remains unclear if the early inaction was due to a lack of urgency, an inability to test people properly and quickly, or a desire to maintain a sense of stability before the Lunar New Year. Crises like this undermine people’s confidence in the government’s credibility and compassion.”

ASE has curated a list of helpful resources to assist employers protect their employees and plan for future outbreaks or spread of the illness.

(CDC) Travel Alerts

If you have employees who may be traveling to or from China, please review your health travel policies.  It is being advised to stop all travel for the time being until the outbreak is confirmed under control.  If you have employees there, make sure they know where to go for medical treatment.   

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