What Missouri employers need to know about coronavirus
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Missouri leaders and health officials announced Missouri’s first confirmed case of coronavirus on Saturday, March 7. The St. Louis County woman who contracted the virus had recently returned from Italy. Health officials report that the patient and her family have been in self-quarantine since the diagnosis, with the exception that the patient’s father and sister left quarantine on March 7. Officials are taking appropriate steps to minimize the risk of potential infection spread.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE (published 3/3/20)
Missouri has no confirmed cases of coronavirus yet, Dept. of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams reported at a Missouri House Special Committee on Disease Control and Prevention hearing on March 2.
However, as committee chairman Rep. Jonathan Patterson (R-Lee’s Summit) noted, Missourians are keeping a close eye on the news.
The potential for a COVID-19 outbreak in Missouri is a concern for individuals and employers alike. Some Missouri businesses are already facing supply chain disruptions that are creating unique challenges, and if an outbreak does occur there is the possibility of worker shortages and dips in workplace productivity.
In addition to Williams’ report on what DHSS is doing to prepare, the committee heard testimony from doctors about how Missouri’s hospitals are gearing up.
“While we believe the risk is low at this time, we always use abundant caution and have been preparing for the arrival of COVID-19 for the past six weeks,” said BJC HealthCare’s Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Clay Dunagan, who is also a professor of infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine.
Experts emphasized the need to be prepared and to take appropriate preventative measures — not only for the sake of reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19, but other infectious diseases like influenza as well.
“The recommendations are not terribly dissimilar to what they would be during any influenza season,” Dunagan said.
Individuals are advised to:
- Regularly wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid touching the face
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if water and soap aren’t available
- Cough and sneeze into a tissue or an elbow, not into a hand or the air
- If sick, to stay home from work and avoid close contact with elderly or otherwise immunocompromised friends/family
At the hearing, Williams stressed hand-washing as the key preventative measure against the illness.
“The most important thing that will keep people from dying in this epidemic is that: Soap,” Williams said, holding up a bar of hand soap.
Coronavirus typically manifests with symptoms similar to that of a cold or flu, said Williams, but a common difference is that patients usually develop a fever.
“Almost 90 percent of people who get sick [with coronavirus] get a fever, and that is different than a cold. Most people with a cold don’t get a fever,” Williams said.
If individuals with cold- or flu-like symptoms have a fever of at least 100.4 degrees, they are encouraged to call their doctor.
There are also steps employers can take to reduce the likelihood of infection in their workplaces.
“People who are not well shouldn’t come to work, so it is important that businesses not create incentives that require individuals to show up when they’re not feeling well,” said Dunagan.
Beyond that, Dunagan said, standard hygienic practices like washing or sanitizing hands are most helpful.
If the threat of disease transmission grows high, he added, employers could also consider options allowing employees to telecommute or work from home, when applicable.
“The other thing, of course, is restricting travel. If there are particularly severely affected areas, it may be reasonable to curtail travel,” said Dunagan.