If you watch or listen to the news, then you’ve heard about coronavirus, the new viral (both figuratively and literally) outbreak in China, that’s spreading worldwide.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the virus, including a meme that’s currently circulating throughout social media that says, “Before you start popping that bubble wrap, that air came from China.” But, the virus is spreading and causing companies to shut down offices in China. So, as an employer or an insurance agent, you may be concerned about the risks to employees. We, at Normandy Insurance, are staying on top of the story as it unfolds, and here’s a synopsis of the things you need to know thus far.
The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (officially “COVID-19”) is a respiratory virus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It is part of a large family of coronaviruses, of which SARS is an infamous member. COVID-19 likely was initially contracted from an animal and is now being spread person-to-person. It produces symptoms of mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.
The spread from person-to-person occurs in close contact via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the CDC’s website. These droplets can land on others and be ingested or inhaled, or land on surfaces where people touch and then touch their mouth, nose, or eyes.
There have been several documented cases in the U.S. in the last few weeks, and the U.S. is taking aggressive actions to stem the spread of COVID-19 in this country, including the use of quarantine measures as appropriate.
Travel bans are currently in place, with some airlines voluntarily canceling flights in a proactive move to halt the spread of the coronavirus and protect airline employees and passengers from exposure. Cruise ships with confirmed cases of the virus are currently under quarantine, some of them for upwards of two weeks. Yet shipments from China continue to our shores via shipping containers and air transport. Should that be a concern?
While researchers are continuing to study how 2019-nCoV is spread, they are using two other coronaviruses (MERS and SARS) as guidelines. In general, COVID-19 does not survive long on surfaces, and so there is a low risk of spread from products or packaging, according to the CDC. Further, the extended time, plus temperatures of shipments, again reduces the likelihood of spread. To date, there are no cases associated with imported goods or packaging from China or anywhere else in the world.
Shipments of animals and food undergo more rigorous testing, and again, no cases have been reported to date. The entire world is closely monitoring the COVID-19 spread since China is such an economic powerhouse with exports across the globe.
Because of the travel bans imposed by many countries, travel to China is not advised. Thankfully communication technology allows us to communicate effectively without needing to board a plane. Chinese citizens understand the severity and seriousness of the outbreak and its impact on travel and business during this time, so it’s unlikely your employees will be pressured to head to the airport.
Employees returning from China may be subject to monitoring or quarantine, depending on where they visited. If any employee returns from China and shows any flu-like symptoms, they should go to the hospital at once.
Employees who handle products imported from China should be educated about COVID-19 and how it is spread, including the fact that it is not believed to be able to survive on a surface through transport. Your insurance provider may offer an expert to come and speak to your workforce if you deem this necessary. If you are a Normandy customer with concerns, contact us to discuss risks and options: call 866-688-6442
Based on the similar coronavirus outbreaks of MERS and SARS, it is hoped that researchers and health professionals will soon be able to curtail the spread of the deadly COVID-19. The on-going risk will depend upon what is learned about the characteristics of the virus, including how exactly it spreads, and available measures to treat the virus.
What is known so far is that the risk of infection is related to exposure; therefore, most of the U.S. public is unlikely to be exposed to the virus. The CDC considers the health risk to be low for Americans at this time.
That said, the federal government is closely monitoring this pandemic and is urging people to visit the CDC’s website for the latest information regarding COVID-19.
If you have questions about how this coronavirus could impact your workforce, please contact us. Normandy prides itself on staying up to speed with the latest issues impacting your workforce safety.