By Andrea Lebron - March 10, 2020
Our guide to coronavirus emergency preparedness provides advice on how to stay reliably informed, share information with others, and plan ahead for a potentially dynamic situation that could quickly impact the health of millions - with economic consequences for education, business and communities.
According to the CDC's most recent Coronavirus Disease Situation Summary (7th March), there have been 164 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. from which eleven people have died. By comparison, the CDC estimates 34 million U.S. citizens have contracted flu this season, resulting in 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths. So, why so much fuss about coronavirus?
From what we know about the virus so far it has the potential to be catastrophic because it has an attack rate three times higher than seasonal flu and a ten times higher mortality rate. The high attack rate is attributable to symptoms manifesting up to fourteen days after contracting the virus (compared to flu's one to four days), and pathogens of the virus surviving on surfaces for up to nine days.
This means the virus can be transmitted asymptomatically up to twenty-three days after a person has been infected - potentially infecting thousands more. Whereas people who have had the flu develop antibodies to combat future infections, no such immunity exists against coronavirus; resulting in a much higher mortality rate, particularly among those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Despite what is known about coronavirus so far, there is still a lot that is not known. This has led to a number of online sources speculating about the virus, what its consequences might be, and how people can best protect against it - and while a healthy lifestyle can promote a healthy immune system, other suggestions - such as drinking MMS or washing hands with vodka - will cause more harm than good.
Unfortunately fake news sites are attracting up to 142 times as much social engagement as official sources such as the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO). Some fake news sites underplay the potential scale of the outbreak, while others compare it to the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 which had a much lower fatality rate - giving people a false impression about how serious this outbreak could be.
This makes it imperative that you establish your agency as an official resource for accurate, reliable updates surrounding coronavirus.
Despite questions over the number of confirmed cases reported by the CDC, the agency's website is still one of the most reliable for sources of information about coronavirus in the U.S. For up-to-date information about the virus in other areas of the world, WHO has a “rolling updates” page on its website (it also has a myth-busters page to dispel some of the rumors promoted by fake news sites).
Other reliable sources of information include:
All of these sources use Twitter to share information about coronavirus, as does the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs if you are planning to travel overseas. You should also follow Tweets from your local state health department, and local hospital. Many hospitals are now engaging on Twitter to provide advice about what you should do if you believe you have the symptoms of coronavirus.
Although each of the fifty states has its own version of what a duty of care consists of, most organizations have a legal obligation to protect those in its care from reasonably foreseeable hazards. The duty of care obligation can relate to (for example) educational institutions taking care of students, businesses taking care of employees, or state and local governments taking care of communities.
The potential for a widespread coronavirus outbreak comes under what most authorities would consider to be reasonably foreseeable, and therefore organizations should take steps to protect those in its care from contracting the virus - notwithstanding that any widespread coronavirus outbreak would have significant economic consequences for educational institutions, businesses, and communities.
Based on the accepted, global strategy for containing, delaying, and mitigating the consequences of an outbreak (PDF), organizations should collate and forward whatever reliable information is available in order to inform students, employees, communities, etc. about the measures they should take in order to protect themselves from infection and what to do if they show signs of infection.
At this time, nobody knows how widespread the coronavirus outbreak will be. The most optimistic forecast is for the level of infection to peak in the middle of the year and subsequently subdue as more treatment options become available. Nonetheless, even in this scenario there will be issues with supply chains, consumer confidence, and workforce availability.
Consequently organizations should plan ahead and be ready to react to whatever scenarios occur - ideally developing an emergency preparedness team and creating a web portal from where students, employees, communities, etc. can access reliable and up-to-date information. The portal should be widely linked to in emails, on other web pages, and in other communications (i.e. social media).
Organizations should also have mass notification systems in place to alert individuals to the rapid deployment of plans. For example schools could use a system such as SwiftK12 to notify parents of school closures, while employers can take advantage of Rave Alert's powerful communication capabilities to advise employees to work from home and perform wellness checks if they are self-quarantined. To cover all eventualities, both SwiftK12 and Rave Alert provide the facility for visitors, contractors, and temporary staff to opt into the system via SMS.
For businesses, the most likely consequences of the coronavirus will be that employees are forced to self-isolate or refrain from going to work if a case is confirmed in the workplace. Therefore, not only is it important organizations have reliable systems in place to communicate coronavirus plans, but also that systems are implemented for communicating with remote workers and filling shift vacancies.
While plenty of tools exist for remote communication, collaboration, and accountability, the most likely problem for businesses is when the physical presence of an employee is required. In industries such as manufacturing, education, and healthcare, it is impossible for most employees to work from home and - in badly impacted locations - there could be significant staff shortages.
Finding replacement staff can be very time-consuming for HR managers, who might spend hours soliciting staff availability, and then further time answering calls from willing volunteers who are no longer required. The most practical solution to this problem is an automated staffing module, which solicits staff on their availability and then informs staff when the vacancies are filled.
State and local governments may have more complex scenarios to deal with than a school or business closing, and to help emergency preparedness teams prepare for events such as the breakdown of public health systems, WHO has prepared guidance on risk communication and community engagement at three different stages of an outbreak - preparing ahead of an outbreak, acting when the first cases are confirmed, and when there is ongoing community transmission of coronavirus.
The guidance notes that one of the most important and effective interventions in a public health response to any event is to proactively communicate what is known, what is unknown and what is being done to get more information, with the objectives of saving lives and minimizing adverse consequences. WHO suggests that planning ahead on how plans will be communicated minimizes and manages rumors and misunderstandings that undermine responses and may lead to further disease spread.
Among many valuable recommendations, WHO recommends building relationships with other emergency response agencies in order to assess communication capacities, identify typical target audiences, and plan communications roles. Collaboration between agencies, WHO states, will reduce the likelihood of an “infodemic” (an excessive amount of information about a problem that makes it difficult to identify a solution) and increase the probability that health advice will be followed.
While existing Rave customers have access to multiple resources offering advice about communicating within educational institutions, businesses, and communities, safety leaders that are not yet using Rave Mobile Safety's suite of communication solutions are invited to get in touch and discuss their emergency preparedness with our team of safety experts.
Andrea is Rave's Director of Digital Marketing, a master brainstormer and avid coffee drinker. Andrea joined Rave in August 2017, after 10 years of proposal and corporate marketing at an environmental engineering firm. You'll find her working with her amazing team in writing and producing blogs like this one, improving your journey to and through our website, and serving you up the best email content. When she's not in front of a keyboard, she's chasing after her three daughters or indulging in her husband's latest recipe. Andrea has a Bachelor's degree in Marketing/Management from Northeastern University and an MBA from Curry College.
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