Risk Insights
October 6, 2020

Is Your Organization Ready?

The President’s COVID-19 diagnosis, rapid hospitalization and unusually quick release has prompted a mountain of questions from both citizens and doctors alike. What were the plans for the continuity of government? What might this mean for the looming presidential election? How many people were infected? Where were they infected? Was it safe for Donald Trump to leave the hospital?

RANE founder David Lawrence spoke with Doctors Bill Lang and Fred Southwick about how businesses can learn from this event to review their continuity planning and maintain a stable workplace.
Dr. Bill Lang is an expert in public health responses to biological incidents, including pandemics.

“The most important thing,” he said, “is to realize that through all of this, and with not just COVID-19, but just about anything, it’s about risk management. You’re not going to be able to eliminate the risk of COVID-19, just like you can’t eliminate the various other kinds of risks. But you can mitigate those risks and you can manage those risks.”

Mitigating and managing risk is an important element of an organization’s success.

“So you also have to have a plan for what you’re going to do if a key person in your organization does, in fact, become sick. Hoping that they don’t get it because you have a good risk mitigation strategy in place is not a strategy. The old story, hope is not a strategy. You actually have to have a plan.”

Does your organization have a plan as to what will happen to ensure the continuity of leadership and business in a crisis such as COVID-19?

Dr. Bill Lang says that one of the most important things for an organization is to recognize that in any crisis, employees, business associates and the public will be hungry for information. That’s why right now, one of the biggest questions that’s being asked of the White House is, “Are you actually being transparent about what’s going on?”

The risk, says Lang, is, “If you do not, as an organization, have a plan for giving your personnel reliable, accurate, and timely information, they’re going to go get that information someplace else. We know that the internet is not generally a source of reliable, accurate, and timely information. So you’re going to have personnel in your organization who are either scared or passing bad information. So you need to be right on top of that, managing information, educating your personnel.”

In a situation where staff become ill with an infectious disease such as COVID-19, managing the risk of spread is critical. And for some businesses, that could mean looking at the larger culture. In the United States, the work culture often leans toward what Dr. Fred Southwick calls, “presenteeism”. Southwick is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

“That means, someone who is present, but by their presence, they are decreasing their own productivity and decreasing the productivity and increasing the overall risk to the people around them.”It wasn’t so long ago that Japan’s work culture was so intense, that people would push themselves to work until they actually died. This is known as Karoshi, and it literally means “overwork death.”

But when the SARS outbreak early this century affected thousands in Asia, something shifted. SARS had a much, much higher fatality rate. Workers donned masks. Regularly.

“So what happened with that is that it became culturally appropriate, culturally accepted, culturally demanded that you wear masks routinely and regularly,” said Dr. Bill Lang. “In fact, to this day in much of Asia, if you do not wear a mask when you have a respiratory infection, that would almost be like, in the United States, if you blow your nose into your hands and then wipe it on your shirt.”

Does your organization need to change its work culture? Is it OK for people to take sick time without reprisal?

“From the organizational standpoint, you’d need to have the support structures in place so that people feel they can miss work if they need to,” said Southwick. “So at the professional level, it means that the professionals are taught and the culture is there. But at the hourly worker level, hourly workers, if they don’t come to work, they don’t get paid. So there needs to be mechanisms in place that support their ability to make the right decision to not come to work when they may be infectious and thereby infecting other people in their organization.”

A good rule of thumb for workers during this pandemic – and during the flu season – is monitoring their temperature to make certain they are actually safe to work. Remember, COVID-19 has a variety of symptoms.

Dr. Fred Southwick explained, “Sometimes people will say they just feel a little more tired than they were before. Another one that’s very specific, if you get that, you have the disease, and that’s if you lose your sense of smell and taste. That’s only in about 10% of patients. But you can have a vague headache, just feel bad. You have a little bit of muscle aches. And then generally you do get a cough. A dry hacking cough is very frequent. It’s in about 60 to 70% of patients. When you look at the studies, the rigorous studies, 90 to 95% of patients, they record a fever. So fever is the most sensitive of all the symptoms.

“I recommend for all close contacts, is that they take their core temperature twice per day using, usually, a thermometer under the tongue, and keep track of what their temperature is. Because for the first three or four days, it will be that normal temperature.

“Then if it goes up over 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over what their baseline is, that is a fever. So, that will usually be the first warning that they have the disease. Also, you would follow with whatever test, either antigen or PCR test, at about four to five days to determine whether they were infected.”

And, wear a mask. Now especially.

“There are now a huge number of epidemiological studies that show when there’s reliable use of masks, you can reduce the spread by over 80%,” said Southwick. “So by wearing a mask, you protect others and you also protect yourself and can dramatically reduce the spread of this infection and allow us all to go out in public relatively safely, the way they are doing in Asia.”


If you would like to know more about how RANE is helping businesses and individuals manage risk from COVID-19, or to track key developments around the virus’s transmission, economic and operational impacts with critical news, analysis and commentary to help formulate your own policies, procedures and response plans, sign up today.

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