The COVID-19 outbreak is at top of mind for physical and cybersecurity professionals nationwide. Keep up with the current number of cases in your state with our interactive map, updated daily by our sister publication, the EHS Daily Advisor—and read on for steps your organization can take to help limit its exposure to, and disruption by, the coronavirus.
The below map will be updated at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (Eastern time) for the foreseeable future. Check back frequently for new numbers, and visit your state’s department of health website for more information specific to your region. (Editor’s Note: The map legend was updated a third time the morning of March 24, 2020.)
Data source: Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center, which pulls data from WHO, CDC, ECDC, NHC, DXY, and local media reports
The situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is changing rapidly, and needs to be treated seriously and approached with an appropriate level of concern. Organizations can take reasonable steps right away to protect the health and safety of their employees as well as mitigate the risk of business disruption. Here are a handful of action items that you can put to good use right away.
Steps Security Professionals Can Take to Help Limit COVID-19 Exposure and Disruption
1. Communicate accurate and up-to-date information to your security team about how coronavirus is transmitted and the symptoms caused by COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe the virus is primarily spread person-to-person by those in close contact (approximately 6 feet) with each other. Generally, the virus is suspended in the respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
There is a possibility that COVID-19 can spread by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. However, the CDC has indicated that they do not think this is a main pathway for spreading the virus. We are still in the early stages of understanding how this virus spreads, with new information coming to light frequently. Therefore, it’s important to regularly check with the CDC for accurate and up-to-date information on its coronavirus website.
The coronavirus presents similar to the flu, with symptoms including fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath appearing between two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. There is no vaccine for the coronavirus, nor is there any drug therapy currently, but most cases of COVID-19 have been relatively mild and can be effectively treated through the use of symptom-managing medications, such as fever reducers. Also consider posting the CDC’s “What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)” fact sheet in your workplace.
2. If you don’t have one already, develop a plan to address potential COVID-19 outbreaks. Review your leave, paid time off, compensation, and attendance policies to determine the best path forward in the event of a major coronavirus outbreak. Consider suspending any medical certification requirements during an outbreak and allow employees to use paid leave for any coronavirus-related absence, including employee absences related to their children’s illness.
Identify jobs that can be performed from home, and work with employees in those roles to reinforce protocols for staying secure while working remotely. Set up a VPN for anyone who needs to access your organization’s servers. When applicable, suggest that employees pull all the files they need for a project and then log out to help limit excessive demand on your network. Productivity software suites, like Microsoft Office allow for web access to e-mail (among other tools), allowing for remote access to internal communication without requiring VPN access, as opposed to a standalone desktop application. It’s also important to remind your team to be on an increased lookout for cyberthreats, as there has been an increase in various scam attempts by threat actors looking to take advantage of the current coronavirus-induced panic.
3. Step up training for security team members that must interact with the public, focusing on the key steps they can take to stay healthy and prevent the spread of infections. Emphasize the importance of limiting disease transmission through always using proper hand washing techniques, coughing into tissues, immediately disposing of any used tissues, and avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth.
Also important to note, the CDC does not recommend that healthy individuals wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, and only recommend taking such precautions only if a healthcare professional determines that it’s necessary. A facemask should be used by those who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms.
4. Ask any team member to stay home if they have coronavirus symptoms. The CDC recommends that anyone with symptoms of acute respiratory illness stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (or signs of a fever) and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-managing medications (e.g. ibuprofen and cough suppressants).
Allow the use of paid leave if available and do not penalize employees who take time off for this reason. Consider posting the CDC’s “What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)” in your workplace. Encourage employees to follow the suggestions from the CDC, including contacting and/or visiting their healthcare provider, and entering a self-quarantine if they are diagnosed with the coronavirus.
It is important to note that most coronavirus cases likely will not meet the serious health condition definition for coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), just as most cases of the flu typically are not covered by the FMLA. However, more severe cases that require more than two visits to a health care provider and continuing treatment, such as those involving pneumonia, or that require inpatient care will be protected by the FMLA.
5. If a team member becomes ill at work, regardless of whether they present symptoms of coronavirus, the flu, or simply a bad cold, it’s incumbent on you to send them home. Take necessary steps to minimize their contact with other employees until they can go home to limit the potential transmission of the virus. Encourage them to seek medical treatment from their health care providers and self-quarantine if they think this is COVID-19.
6. Keep medical information related to any employees who have COVID-19 confidential. Remember, both the ADA and FMLA require you to keep medical information about employees confidential, including information about the coronavirus.
7. Stay informed regarding the latest news on COVID-19 from the CDC and local health authorities. Monitor outbreaks in your community and check the CDC’s coronavirus website on a regular basis for new recommendations for responding to any outbreak.