Coronavirus: The Time for Calm Preparedness is Now (Updated)

Caregiving Resource | February 25, 2020 | by Dee Pekruhn, Juliana Bilowich

As we know from the daily news, the novel Coronavirus continues to spread, triggering an increasing global concern of a pandemic. As Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, stated in a news briefing, “We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad.”

LeadingAge has compiled an additional array of resources from the CDC, WHO and others to help you prepare.

Generally speaking, the likelihood of the novel Coronavirus spreading in the U.S. no longer a question of “if,” but “when?” This is how Dr. Messonnier described the expectation of the disease’s coming emergence in the U.S. in a news briefing on Tuesday, February 25 2020. Americans are advised to “be ready for a significant disruption to their daily lives.” Already, the White House has requested $2.5 billion in preliminary funding for the response to a potential stateside outbreak, and some critics say even this may not be enough.

And because the people we serve are typically more vulnerable to exposure and illness from viruses like Coronavirus, we emphasize that now is the time for calm preparedness for a possible domestic epidemic. Below, we answer your questions and offer an array of new resources from CDC and WHO.

How Should I Prepare Our Community?

  • Assemble your Emergency Preparedness and Operations teams and prepare strategically for a potential spread of the virus.
  • Review your infection control protocol, inventory your supplies, and prepare your employees.
  • Create a Communication Plan for all stakeholders; the World Health Organization has a great Communications Package that you can download and use.
  • Note: Messaging to the people we serve is best received when the tone is calm, reassuring, and direct. It is important to emphasize both how the entire community is preparing, as well as how individuals can prepare at home.


How Should I Prepare Our Staff?

  • Acknowledge the current situation and share only verified facts. One great source is the New York Times, which has regular live updates; among other notable publications.
  • Refresh staff with reminder trainings on hand hygiene, proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and their responsibility to stay home when sick.
  • Get people thinking about what to do if schools and other public institutions are closed. Reassure staff that it is a similar approach to closures due to weather emergencies – something they are more familiar and comfortable with.
  • Offer resources to help manage anxiety and stress, such as your Employee Assistance Program.


What Are Five Things Everyone Can Do?

Like so many of the easily-transmissible diseases and viruses we prepare for every day in our communities, everyone can prepare with a few simple reminders:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze.
  • Maintain “social distances” of a few feet near people who show symptoms.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home and get medical attention if you are sick.


Where Can I Learn More?

Here are additional resources that you can review to prepare your community for a Coronavirus outbreak.

Special Guidance for Preparation in Affordable Senior Housing:

Providers of affordable housing for older adults are in a unique position to help stop the spread of infectious diseases like the coronavirus. Practitioners can take steps now to develop preparedness and response plans to protect against infection.

I am an Affordable Housing Provider. What should I do?

  • Acknowledge the current situation with your staff and residents but share only verified facts.
  • Publish the CDC’s Coronavirus resources in your common areas; “What to do if you are sick,” “Stop the spread of germs,” and other CDC posters are available in English, Spanish, and Chinese.
  • Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home when they are sick or need to care for a sick family member.
  • Establish a point of contact with your local health department in order to receive and share information, and to report the number of residents who are showing symptoms of the illness in the event of an outbreak.
  • Refresh emergency contact lists for staff and residents, including contacts for family, caregivers, and health care providers.

How Can We Prepare Our Residents?

  • Encourage residents to stock up on important items, such as soap, hand sanitizer, tissues, and disposable facemasks.
  • Get people thinking about what to do if schools and other public institutions are closed, and reassure residents that this is a similar approach to weather emergencies – something they are more familiar and comfortable with.
  • Leverage existing telehealth tools to direct people to the right level of healthcare for their medical needs.
  • Refer residents to organizations in the community that can help in case of an outbreak in the area, such as organizations that provide mental health or counseling services, food, and other supplies.

How Can We Prepare Our Staff?

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home, and develop a plan for your teams to accommodate staff shortages.
  • Consider waiving the requirement for a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick, as medical facilities may be busier than usual.
  • Remind staff to practice good hand hygiene, as well as good sneeze and cough etiquette, and to limit close contact with residents.
  • Continue routinely cleaning all frequently touched surfaces; according to the CDC, no additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.

As the novel coronavirus situation develops, and additional resources are made available, we will update and keep you posted! Comments or questions? Reach out to Dee or Juliana.