Will COVID-19 Affect Your Small Business?
On February 22nd, the CDC issued a ‘dire warning’ regarding the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. and urged businesses to prepare in the event that there is an outbreak of the corona virus in their area. If a local or national outbreak of the COVID-19 virus occurs, business owners are at risk for high employee call-out rates, decreased sales, and cash flow issues. The risk to your business is significant enough that all veterinary hospitals should prepare a response plan to a potential COVID-19 outbreak.
Is The Risk To My Business Real?
Yes. Even if the news reportage on COVID-19 turn out to be hyperbolic, the population’s reaction to news of an outbreak will likely impact U.S. businesses much as it has in China, Korea, and Italy. It doesn’t matter if the virus has a lower infection and morbidity rate than the flu; once people find out that an outbreak is in their area, they will probably react strongly. They may change the way that they shop, travel, care for their children, interact with others, and use their sick leave. The behavior could last for weeks.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.
The CDC Explains How Business’s Should Prepare For COVID-19
The CDC has wisely issued a list of guidelines for small business owners in the face of a local or national outbreak of COVID-19. Upon review, I believe the recommendations are well advised. In other countries, businesses have shuddered within a day of an outbreak, so if you wait until an outbreak is announced to do your planning, it will be too late. Here are the CDC’s recommendations for employers.
Review Your Sick Leave Policy
Decide if you want to build more flexibility into your sick leave policy should an outbreak of COVID-19 happen in your area. Ask yourself how you will respond if an employee needs to stay home with a child that has tested positive for COVID-19. If an employee calls out sick during an outbreak, will you still require them to bring in a note from the doctor? Will doctors even be available to write such a note? How will you react if an employee has already used all of their sick days, but requires more time because of an outbreak or exposure to the virus? If you change your sick leave policy, make sure that you review the changes with your staff and provide them with a written copy of the new policy.
OSHA and COVID-19
According to the Center for Disease Control:
“OSHA standards, including those for personal protective equipment (PPE, 29 CFR 1910.132) and respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910.134), require employers to assess the hazards to which their workers may be exposed.
“In assessing potential hazards, employers should consider whether or not their workers may encounter someone infected with COVID-19 in the course of their duties. Employers should also determine if workers could be exposed to environments or materials contaminated with the virus.
“Depending on the work setting, employers may also rely on identification of sick individuals who have signs, symptoms, and/or a history of travel to COVID-19-affected areas that indicate potential infection with the virus, in order to help identify exposure risks for workers and implement appropriate control measures.”
Decide How You Will Manage Caseload
What will you do if one of your veterinarians is diagnosed with COVID-19 or if a significant portion of your employees calls out sick? Just plowing though a heavy caseload, despite employee shortages, isn’t always meritorious. Overtaxed employees risk injuring themselves, injuring animals, and making medical errors. Make a plan for how to adjust your schedule in the event of a significant or impactful staff shortage.
Decide If Employees Should Quarantine Themselves
If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your area, what will you do if someone shows up to work with the sniffles? What will you do if an employee’s child can’t go to daycare or to school because of COVID-19-related closures? Will that employee be eligible for sick leave pay? What will you do if employees learn that a member of another employee’s family has tested positive for COVID-19? Will you allow that seemingly healthy, but potentially infectious, staff member to come to work? What will you do if your employees don’t want to work with others that they believe are infectious? The CDC recommends, “Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants)”. Use the OSHA links at the end of this article for more information regarding your obligations as an employer.
Review Your Financial Situation
An outbreak could cause significant employee call outs and appointment cancellations. The situation could last 2 weeks or longer and impact sales. How will you manage the financial burden? Speak with your accountant on the matter and create a plan for how to guard yourself against a steep decline in revenue.
Teach Employees Respiratory Etiquette and Hand Hygiene
Review How To Clean Your Practice
Most employees are not using surface sanitizers correctly at their practices. This is an excellent chance to cover the proper way to clean work surfaces, phones, computer keyboards and so forth.
Many veterinary practices use the Virox product line, specifically Rescue. The product is hydrogen peroxide based, doesn’t require a long contact time, and comes in liquid form and in wipes so that you can use it on floors, fill spray bottles, or clean surfaces like keyboards and phones.
Use this link for more information on how to properly clean a surface in a medical facility.
Decide How You Will Handle The Public
During an outbreak, you’re likely to get a number of calls from concerned pet owners, so you should be prepared. According to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, there is no evidence to suggest that we can infect our pets with COVID-19 or that we can be infected by them, but researchers caution that the virus is still too new to know for sure.
“Currently there is no evidence that pets can be infected with this new coronavirus. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, until we know more, pet owners should avoid contact with animals they are unfamiliar with and always wash their hands before and after they interact with animals. If owners are sick with COVID-19, they should avoid contact with animals in their household including petting, snuggling, kissing, being licked, and sharing food and they should wash their hands before and after they interact with their pets and wash their hands.” World Small Animal Veterinary Association
Use the following resources when drafting a list of recommendations for pet owners in the face of COVID-19.
- American Veterinary Medical Association
- World Small Animal Veterinary Association
- World Organization for Animal Health
- Center For Disease Control
Additional Small Business Management Resources Related to COVID-19