Safely Speaking

What Employers Need To Know About Coronavirus

by Betsey Kulakowski, CSHO, COSS

Executive Director, Oklahoma Safety Council 

The Centers for Disease Control is closely monitoring an outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) virus (named 2019-nCoV), known as the Coronavirus. The virus appears to be linked to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, China. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The first confirmed cases of the infection spreading person-to-person was identified on January 30, 2020.

While the risk of infection in most US workers is not considered to be a significant risk, according to the CDC, precautions are still warranted. Recently, OSHA published an online resource to help employers address the global coronavirus outbreak.  Workers involved in airline operations (including cabin crewmembers), healthcare (including clinical laboratory personnel), and border protection may have exposure to travelers infected with the virus in China or other affected areas. Business travelers from the United States who visit areas abroad where the virus is spreading may also be at some risk of exposure.

Employers and workers should consult interim CDC guidance specific to 2019-nCoV, along with existing resources for other coronaviruses, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), for precautions appropriate for this similar virus.

Airports are currently screening passengers arriving from China, working to identify travelers with fever, persistent cough, difficulty breathing or persons appearing obviously unwell. Infection control procedures for cabin crews are also addressed in the CDC guidelines and focus on practicing good hand-hygiene, identifying sick/potentially infectious travelers, following bloodborne pathogens/universal precaution protocols and using appropriate PPE, as well as cleaning and disinfecting contaminated areas and ensuring waste is properly disposed of.

According to the CDC, health care providers also need to practice proper controls that include prompt identification of suspected cases (preferably before they arrive at the facility), isolation protocols, hand hygiene and personal protective equipment, including gloves, respirators, eye protection and gowns. Additionally, the protocols address controls when performing aerosol-generating procedures and visitor management as well as engineering control, monitoring of exposed healthcare personnel; and education and training. Healthcare facilities are required to establish reporting with public health authorities and prompt notification is essential as the CDC is heavily involved in identifying and confirming cases of Coronavirus.

Officials want to remind individuals that while the coronavirus is a concern, the flu has been especially hard this year and remains a more prevalent threat to the general population. As of this writing, there have been 53 cumulative deaths due to the flu since September of 2019 in Oklahoma. Precautions for flu should be implemented and everyone is encouraged to get a flu shot if they can, and to follow good respiratory- and hand-hygiene. Health officials also encourage those with the flu to stay home when they are sick.


For more information on COVID-19, visit: