Posted March 20, 2020
A pandemic is a disease outbreak that impacts multiple nations, contrasted with an epidemic, which is a regional outbreak. Pandemics can occur when a new virus strain appears for which the population has no immunity.
Influenza pandemics are recurring events, with variable severity. The Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 was one of the worst, infecting one-third of the planet’s population, with an unusually high mortality rate even among healthy adults.
More recent events include the bird flu pandemic of 2006 and the H1N1 outbreak of 2009. Although the 2009 outbreak infected an estimated 60 million Americans, the mortality rate was less than 0.01 percent.
Available information suggests the COVID-19 mortality rate is higher than the 2009 pandemic, primarily among vulnerable members of the population. Controlling transmission is therefore critical to both save lives and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Business continuation and employee safety
A business’s response to a pandemic like COVID-19 needs to address both operations and employee concerns. Planning for a pandemic also prepares the company for an epidemic impacting the region, or for epidemics in regions affecting suppliers or customers.
Although every company’s plan will differ based on operations and resources, elements to cover include:
- Communicating critical information to employees;
- Preparing for absenteeism levels as high as 25 to 40 percent;
- Evaluating options to continue operations; and
- Identifying regulatory or legal obligations to employees.
Business continuation planning ranges from identifying alternate suppliers, designating executive decision-makers, and evaluating options for addressing absenteeism.
Training and communication
Communicating plans to employees helps reduce apprehension, since uncertainty increases anxiety, and a pandemic already creates additional stress in their personal lives. Businesses will want to project an air of confidence and provide reassurance to employees to the company is prepared to deal with the event.
For example, advanced communication of plans to minimize employee interaction and exposure, whether offering remote work options or temporarily closing some locations, helps convey to employees that the company is implementing a plan rather than taking a reactive approach.
Some options, such as sending employees home when sick, commonly raise questions on whether to pay those employees for the time away. Options should be evaluated and communicated to employees, helping them make better choices.
Planning and communication helps everyone understand what to expect, reducing surprises and preparing the business get through the disruption by keeping the long-term end goal in sight.
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