The headlines have been dominated by an outbreak of novel coronavirus, first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. As we continue to hear news reports about the spread of coronavirus, including several cases identified in the United States, we can’t help but wonder if there is something we should be doing to protect ourselves, our families and our work environment.

As of February 3, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has labeled the current coronavirus outbreak as a serious public health threat, but one where the immediate health risk to the general American public is considered low. To help you understand the current state of the coronavirus outbreak, we have included information from several authorities below.

First, a message from our leaders:

“No doubt the coronavirus has the potential to significantly impact medical and work absence costs. We are incorporating our best advice on risk avoidance and mitigation practices to prepare our clients across the country.” – Craig Hasday, National Employee Benefits Practice Leader

“We have already seen an impact on our multinational companies, and there is potential for these effects to be substantial, especially as it relates to the supply chain. It is forcing companies to evaluate not only their short-term operations but their long-term strategic plans as well. We are working with our Global Partners throughout International Networks to best position our clients to address this risk.” – Henry Shurling, Sr. Vice President, International Business

From the World Health Organization 

The World Health Organization (WHO), in its second meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on January 30 has declared the coronavirus outbreak in China a Global Public Health Emergency. However, WHO says it has confidence in China’s ability to control the coronavirus outbreak and is not recommending restrictions on travel and trade against China. It is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country. Thus, all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of coronavirus, and to share full data with WHO.

From Health and Human Services

On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency (PHE) for the United States to aid the nation’s healthcare community in responding to coronavirus. Also on January 31, the President of the United States signed a presidential “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel coronavirus.”

Imported cases of the coronavirus infection in people have been detected in the U.S. While person-to-person spread among close contacts has been detected with this virus, at this time this virus is NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States.

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

The CDC issued an updated interim Health Alert Notice (HAN) Advisory to inform state and local health departments and health care providers about this outbreak on February 1, 2020. While the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is believed to be low at this time, everyone can do their part to help us respond to this emerging public health threat.

It’s currently flu and respiratory disease season and CDC recommends getting vaccinated, taking everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, and taking flu antivirals if prescribed. For travelers, stay up to date with CDC’s travel health notices related to this outbreak.

From Workplace Safety Labor & Employment Law Firm Fisher & Phillips

If you are not already familiar with the news, a new virus first identified in Wuhan, China in 2019 has been spreading across the globe in the past few weeks. The new coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, is not a flu but a pneumonia-like infection.

What are the symptoms of the current coronavirus?

The virus symptoms manifest as a mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. The CDC believes at this time that symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. Unfortunately, at this point there is no easy way to test for the coronavirus. Only the CDC can perform an accurate test.

How is the current coronavirus transmitted?

We do not yet know with certainty how the new coronavirus is transmitted. As in the case of SARS, researchers believe that the virus is zoonotic – meaning it jumped from animal to human, probably from contact with bodily fluids during preparation in the large Wuhan market.

Research indicates that the coronavirus to spread from person to person, and it behaves similarly to SARS (although it may be less harsh).  SARS and MERS, which generally spread between people who had “close contact” with one another. This could loosely be described as someone being coughed or sneezed upon. Fortunately, experts do not believe that this current coronavirus will manifest itself as a highly infectious airborne virus, but days are still early to make a definitive determination. While possible, it is less likely that this coronavirus spreads through eating infected meat, especially if cooked above 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Considerations for workforces that travel

The U.S. State Department has issued a Level-4 Warning recommending that travelers not travel to Hubei Province of China, including Wuhan. A Level-2 Warning has been issued for all of China, which instructs visitors to avoid all nonessential travel to China.

Also, the CDC advises that some individuals may be more at risk of infection than others in the general population. Follow the CDC direction on pregnant employees or on related reproductive issues, and do not make decisions without medical support.

If you or a family member have recently visited China and feel sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing, a medical provider should be consulted before returning to work. At this point, the CDC believe that if someone has not presented symptoms within 14 days, they do not have the coronavirus, and are not infectious. While a Chinese Ministry of Health official claimed this weekend to have evidence of transmission before symptoms, the CDC has expressed doubts about this claim but has not yet ruled it out.

Prevention techniques

Public Health experts recommend getting a flu shot, presumably on the grounds that one may be more vulnerable if they have the flu, and people who are vaccinated fare better if struck by the flu than those who are not. While the coronavirus has bumped the flu off the front page, it is shaping up to be one of the worst flus in the last decade. After slowing for two weeks, cases picked up last week.

As in the case of the annual influenza, SARS, avian flu, and swine flu, the best way to prevent expansion is to avoid exposure. Therefore, take the same actions that you would to avoid the flu.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Surgical masks have not been proven to definitively protect someone because they may not be tight and allow droplets around the edges. However, masks prevent you from unconsciously touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, so they may offer a measure of protection.
What should we do next?

At this point, the best course of action is to monitor information to reduce unfounded fears about travel, flying and coworkers.

The other critical step you can take at this point is to aggressively take steps to avoid the flu. Perhaps the most important message is to stay home if sick. These same measures would most likely stop any spread of the current coronavirus.

However, if any coworker presents themselves at work with a fever or difficulty in breathing, this indicates that they should seek medical evaluation. While these symptoms are not always associated with influenza and the likelihood of their having coronavirus is extremely low, it pays to err on the side of caution.

We will continue to monitor this rapidly developing situation.

For all of EPIC’s coronavirus coverage, visit 

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