Preventive measures: Businesses play role in curtailing spread of disease

Amanda Mayle

Even if headlines about the new strain of coronavirus have you worried about a pandemic, there’s no need to panic. Rest assured, experts on local, statewide, national and international levels are closely monitoring this new illness and responding.

At Mesa County Public Health, we’re working with our hospital, health care and regional partners to provide information and resources.  In addition, there’s a team of epidemiologists right here in Mesa County tasked with disease surveillance. Members of the epidemiology team at MCPH serve as disease detectives and through data collection and analysis work to identify causes of illness, injury and death affecting Mesa County residents. They do it all year, every year. It’s routine. While there’s a lot about the coronavirus outbreak that’s unprecedented, evidence-based practices help control the spread of disease.

The risk of contracting this new strain of coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, in Colorado remains low. Don’t get us wrong, though, we understand the scenario is scary. The new Netflix documentary titled “Pandemic” shows just how quickly these types of illnesses can and have spread. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 featured in the documentary constitutes the deadliest example. About a third of the global population was infected, and an estimated 20 million to 50 million people died. We’re in the midst of the 2019 and 2020 influenza season. Thousands of people have been hospitalized across the United States and 54 children have died.

The risk of contracting influenza — for which there’s a vaccine that’s proven effective — remains far greater than the chance of contracting coronavirus.

Still, the new strain of coronavirus has garnered a lot of attention because of the number of people affected and the novel part of this outbreak. If a virus mutating from animals and infecting humans seems like something out of a movie, it is. It’s a plot that’s repeatedly appeared on the big screen. The 1995 drama “Outbreak” depicts a lethal virus brought to the United States by a monkey.

That’s Hollywood. But the reality is once person-to-person transmission occurs, these types of illnesses spread rapidly. Think about how many things you touch every day. A  doorknob. The railing on the staircase at your building.  The salt and pepper shakers at a restaurant. Look around your office. What supplies are used by numerous people or touched repeatedly? There’s a lot of opportunities for exposure in our everyday lives.

What are the cleaning and disinfecting policies at your workplace? Do you know if the cleaning products are effective against the types of viruses circulating at any given time? Businesses can help control the spread of illness by regularly cleaning and sanitizing doorknobs, handrails and other frequently touched surfaces.

Here are some other public health recommendations to prevent the spread of illness:

Frequently wash your hands.

Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing.

Stay away from others who are ill.

Stay home when you’re sick.

All these recommendations are important. But business leaders can have a direct effect on the last two. Offering sick time to employees so they’re able to remain at home when they’re ill improves the overall health of your work force.

Consider the effects of an illness on productivity. As we saw with the recent gastrointestinal outbreak in Mesa County, it doesn’t take long for these types of illnesses to involve a large number of people and, for some smaller companies, even force closures. Consider options that allow employees to work from home or telecommute to keep a sick person isolated and protect other employees from illness.

New viruses can be worrisome. But consistently implementing preventive measures at your business can protect you and those around you.