Preparation and protection against a coronavirus outbreak

Eastern PA Conference Disaster Response Coordinator Robert Simcox shared with conference leaders this week links to planning information offered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for protection from the growing coronavirus pandemic.

“I am sending this just for planning purposes,” said Simcox, adding that he would also share the information with District Disaster Coordinators and conference Emergency Response Team leaders. “It is important that we do not panic. This helps us prepare in the event that the virus starts spreading in our community.” Simcox can be reached at drc@epaumc.org or 610-427-0470.

“I would say we need to exercise care and keep up to date on the latest information about the spread of this virus,” said Bishop Peggy Johnson. “Pray that this epidemic will soon pass, and pray for those who have become sick.”

Bishop David Bard of the Michigan Episcopal Area, in an article published this week, asked churches there to begin preparing for a possible widespread outbreak of the coronavirus disease. “There is no need for immediate action,” he said. “But now is a good time to calmly assess the possible impact on our local churches if an outbreak occurs…”

Possibly significant impact on faith communities

He warned of a significant impact on faith communities due to various factors, including members’ age and wellness. “The virus could spread easily during worship services and other faith gatherings where people are sitting in close proximity,” the article explained. “Local churches are encouraged to complete the CDC Faith-based & Community Organizations Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Checklist. While this check-list was developed in 2016 to combat the spread of influenza, it will function well to plan for COVID-19.  

“Church leadership will want to discuss what actions might need to be taken if worship services were suddenly interrupted,” the Michigan Area article continues, offering advice that Eastern PA churches should find helpful as well. Cabinet members here are suggesting churches explore livestreaming their worship services and Bible study classes if they are not already doing so. Use of video-conferencing could be another option for some, using affordable solutions like Zoom.

“Consideration needs to be taken for the emotional and spiritual care of the sick,” the Michigan Area article continues, “sanitation of facilities, communication with staff and membership, communion and food safety, stewardship concerns, and other possible impacts resulting from a wide-spread pandemic. Leaders will also need to educate members on how to reduce risk while at church, including frequent hand washing, asking sick individuals to stay at home, and reducing physical contact.”

On Feb. 12 the CDC released its  Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).  It includes engagng state and local health departments to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information.

Disease has spread globally from China to U.S.

The respiratory disease was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China . It has now been detected in nearly 40 locations internationally, including cases in the United States. The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”).

The International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern”  (PHEIC outbreak). 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 COVID-19.

Early on, many of the patients in the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread. Person-to-person spread has been reported outside China, including in the United States and other locations.

Chinese officials report that sustained person-to-person spread in the community is occurring in China. In addition, other destinations have apparent community spread, meaning some people have been infected who are not sure how or where they became infected. Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses.

(Information from Centers for Disease Control [CDC] Website-updated 2/25/20)

Risk Assessment

Outbreaks of novel virus infections among people are always of public health concern. The risk from these outbreaks depends on characteristics of the virus, including how well it spreads between people, the severity of resulting illness, and measures available to control the impact of the virus (for example, vaccine or treatment medications).

The fact that this disease has caused illness and resulted in some deaths, and sustained person-to-person spread is concerning. These factors meet two of the criteria of a pandemic. As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer toward meeting the third criteria, worldwide spread of the new virus.

The potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States. But individual risk is dependent on exposure.

  • For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.
  • Under current circumstances, certain people will have an increased risk of infection, for example healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 and other close contacts of persons with COVID-19. CDC has developed guidance to help in the risk assessment and management of people with potential exposures to COVID-19.

However, it’s important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. In that case, the risk assessment would be different.

What May Happen

More cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States. It’s also likely that person-to-person spread will continue to occur, including in the United States. Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism.

Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and transportation industry may also be affected. Health care providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed. At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it. Nonpharmaceutical interventions would be the most important response strategy.

Symptoms

For confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure. This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses

Prevention

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • 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 using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to  others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Guidelines for Working from Home

  • If you are too sick to work: 

Please stay home, see your doctor if needed, rest, and request sick pay.

  • If you have flu or cold symptoms, but feel well enough to work:

Please contact your supervisor to see if working from home is possible, and to obtain approval. Email confirmation of this is recommended.

Non-exempt staff:  If working from home on a temporary basis as described above, please be sure to clock in and out using your ADP portal, and to observe all meal and rest period breaks. If you are working from home, you will not need to request sick pay for that time. You will receive pay for hours worked at your regular rate of pay. If you are only able to work a few hours a day, simply clock in and out for the time worked, and request sick pay for the remaining hours of your normal schedule.

At this time, the risk of exposure for the general public in the United States remains low. However, because this outbreak is changing, the best course of action is to consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the trusted organization charged with monitoring and controlling the coronavirus in the U.S. Health Advocate can provide information and support for those who may be concerned about the outbreak. If you would like a digital flyer with this information, email info@HealthAdvocate.com.

Information and Resources

Follow the guidelines and information provided by the trusted agencies below, including steps to prepare should an outbreak happen in your community, and guidance for travelers.

OTHER SOURCES:   

  • California-Pacific Conference
  • Health Advocate