Preparing For and Responding to the Spread of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As of Feb. 11, 2020, the CDC has confirmed thirteen cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States and expects to see more. First detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, this respiratory illness continues to spread, although the risk to the United States general public remains low. The CDC has also confirmed that the virus does spread from person-to-person contact; however, the ease of transmission is still unknown. Since a vaccine has yet to be developed, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure. It will be imperative that organizations take steps to prepare for and respond to potential exposure to COVID-19.

Travel

Minimize chances for exposure by asking employees about any recent travel to China or areas that have confirmed cases of COVID-19. Also, inquire with customers, patients, and vendors about their recent trips to affected areas. The CDC has provided a helpful flowchart to identify and assess possible COVID-19 illness.

Education

Educate employees on the symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, and shortness of breath). If an employee feels sick with any of these symptoms, encourage them to stay home, seek medical care, and work remotely if possible. Currently, the CDC believes that symptoms can appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days after exposure. Ensure any symptomatic employee or customer seeks immediate medical care and alerts the clinic or emergency room before their arrival. If possible, limit exposure by placing the person away from others and providing a surgical mask. Consider the use of telehealth to further limit exposure. Refer to OSHA’s guidelines on the control and prevention of COVID-19 for more information.

Cleaning/Disinfection

Provide employees with access to soap and water, or 60%-95% alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets (a cough or sneeze). However, it is still unknown how long COVID-19 remains infectious in the air and on surfaces. Clean and disinfect any surfaces with which the suspected person may have come in contact. Refer to the CDC’s guidelines on prevention and treatment for more information.

Healthcare professionals – Update infection control practices and continue to check the CDC website for the most up-to-date guidance and information. The CDC has provided a preparedness checklist for the transport and arrival of potentially infected patients as a resource.

Personal Protection Equipment

According to the CDC, spread from person-to-person happens most often among close contacts, at a range of about six feet via respiratory droplets. Surgical masks protect from pathogens and other particles that can be inhaled. Consider offering surgical masks at facility entrances to the general public.

Healthcare professionals– Implement a respiratory protection program, including the use of disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators. It is critical that these masks are properly fitted to the healthcare worker, and they are trained in proper use. OSHA has published a helpful toolkit on the subject.

Organizations can prepare [for COVID-19] by revisiting their business continuity plans…

Business Continuity

As COVID-19 continues to spread, some infectious disease experts are anticipating the outbreak will become a pandemic. Organizations can prepare by revisiting their business continuity plans and adjusting as more information regarding COVID-19 is shared via a reliable source. This may include updating your emergency operations plan and understanding the types of coverages that apply if your organization were to experience any business interruption.

Workers’ compensation – The difficulty with this coverage is determining where the employee was infected, and whether that was related to their job or employment. Employees traveling abroad may also involve accident insurance policies in addition to workers’ compensation coverage. Should an employee file a claim, it would be recommended to report the matter to your workers’ compensation carrier or claims administrator for coverage evaluation.

General liability – Although most general liability policies provide coverage against third-party “bodily injury” or “property damage,” most insurers will evaluate each claim based upon its merits and could potentially reject claims from anxious customers or alleging fear or disturbances to mental wellbeing. In addition, most general liability policies will also have exclusions for pollution, defining the virus as a “contaminant or irritant.”

Management liability – Directors and officers (D&O) policies are designed to provide defense and indemnity for actions taken (or inaction) by directors or officers that negatively impact the operations of the firm. While D&O policies also carry pollution exclusions, most policies will provide an exception to the exclusion for alleged wrongful acts taken by the entity or directors that affect the organization. In other words, claims for financial damage to the organization and shareholders may be covered, but bodily injury or property damage to third parties arising out of the pollution exposure may not.

Property coverage – Property insurers intend for their policies to cover direct, physical damage to property and could extend to cover time element, business income, or extra expense exposures from a covered loss to property. As an epidemiological outbreak is usually considered a human injury and doesn’t involve property damage, it is likely the property coverage will not respond to a COVID-19-related shutdown to businesses, unless there is a specific endorsement to cover a pandemic event. Similarly to the general liability policy, insurers may also point to the pollution exclusion contained in property policies to decline coverage.

To learn more about ways to prepare for and protect your organization against COVID-19, please refer to the CDC’s page on the situation and consult with your insurance broker.

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