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How Businesses and Individuals Can Prepare for an Outbreak: The Week Ahead

Federal health officials are reminding the American public that while the coronavirus risk is high, now is not the time to panic but instead to be prepared.

But what exactly does it mean to be prepared?

Businesses should head to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov to access continuously updated information.

The CDC has been updating its site all week to provide guidelines around the coronavirus, now formally known as COVID-19, so that business can reduce transmission among staff while maintaining operations. By and large, the prevention strategies aren’t much different from what’s been advised for any respiratory disease, such as influenza: hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds and consumers should refrain from touching their eyes, nose and mouth.

The CDC recommends that employers “actively encourage sick employees to stay home” if they have symptoms of acute respiratory illness, which includes a fever higher than 100.4 degrees, until they are free of certain symptoms.

Hand sanitizers should contain at least 60 percent to 90 percent alcohol. The agency also provides coughing and sneezing etiquette, such as covering noses and mouths with a tissue or using an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available.

Routine environmental cleaning is also advised, such as at workstations, keyboards and doorknobs. The website provides travel information and recommendations for different countries. On Friday, the CDC had a warning level 3 on its site, noting that American should avoid nonessential travel to South Korea and China. A level 2 alert, advising Americans to “practice enhanced precautions,” was set for Italy, Iran and Japan.

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Because of the possibility of increased worker absences, whether due to illness or closed schools, businesses should also plan for higher-than-usual absenteeism. “Cross-train personnel to perform essential functions so that the workplace is able to operate even if key staff members are absent,” the CDC advised. And interim business guidelines noted the possibility of flexible off-site work and staggered work hours, where possible and particularly if state and local health authorities recommend the use of “social distancing strategies.”

A separate page on the CDC site provides information on personal protective measures and community measures in the event of an outbreak.

“The aggressive containment strategy has been working. However, we do expect more cases and this is the perfect time to prepare,” Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, said at President Trump’s news conference on Wednesday. She emphasized that this was a good time for Americans to prepare, noting that the “trajectory of what we are looking at in the weeks and months ahead is very uncertain.”

The CDC website also allows parties to receive coronavirus updates by email.