The 2019 novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic is spreading, having reached nearly 30 countries since the outbreak began in Hunan Province, China. As of February 3, 2020, more than 20,000 total cases have been reported. If you are an employer with workers who travel abroad or might be at risk of contact with the virus, how can you protect them?

Recognizing the Virus

The primary symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and may appear as quickly as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days after. Just based on symptoms, the virus can be difficult to distinguish from other common viral infections, such as cold and flu. COVID-19 is transmitted through airborne respiratory secretions, so sneezing and coughing are common ways the virus spreads; in this way, any of these secretions on a patient’s hands can then be transmitted via handshakes to another person. That is why respiratory protection and strict hand hygiene are so important, just like with influenza. Like other viral infections, there is no specific treatment for COVID-19.

Basic Prevention

Without a vaccine available, preventing the spread of coronavirus is as simple as avoiding contact with other sick persons, cleaning hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, or washing hands with soap and water, and sneezing or coughing into your sleeved elbow crease, or covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and hand-sanitizing afterwards. Frequently touched objects and surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Avoid touching the mouth, nose, or eyes with unwashed hands.

Personal Protective Equipment

When contact with infected persons is likely, personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used. Disposable gloves, eye protection (goggles or mask with face shield), and a respirator or face mask (such as an N95 filter mask) are the most effective PPE in keeping out pathogens. Additional protection with a long-sleeved medical gown is also recommended. Your workers should report any contact with travelers experiencing fever, or fever with respiratory complications such as coughing and/or shortness of breath. Contact with such persons should be minimized, and the sick person should be separated from other persons (at least six feet) if possible, and the ill person should wear a medical face mask to reduce transmission risk. This same PPE should be worn by persons cleaning rooms after a potential case has left, and rooms cannot be placed into service again until at least two hours have passed and the touched surfaces have all been disinfected with an EPA-approved hospital sanitizer.

Risk in the U.S.

At this time, COVID-19 is not considered to be spreading within the United States. However, the situation is evolving, and any observed cases are from exposures that occurred at least one to two weeks ago; there is the distinct potential for this to spread, since the growth in case numbers from China is exponential. To learn more about symptoms, prevention, and spread of COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website or the World Health Organization.

We Can Help

CTEH can provide services including crisis management, emergency response, industrial hygiene, occupational health, risk assessment, safety, and more. To learn more about how CTEH can help assess your company’s risk and protect its workers, contact us.

Any scientific or medical information included in this article is current as of the date of publication; however, public health knowledge of COVID-19 is rapidly developing. Readers are advised to monitor national, state and local public health agencies for current recommendations regarding any infectious disease.