Editor’s Note: Our creative team has developed 20 short videos about COVID-19 that are themed around returning to work. Click here to download the videos and see how you can use them to safely reopen and communicate with customers and staff.

COVID-19, which is mistakenly referred to by many as “the corona virus” (there are many corona viruses, but the current one is specific) is an upper-respiratory disease which as of this writing has infected at least 120,000 and killed more than 3,900.

The rapidly changing information about the virus creates worry, chaos and a lot of uncertainties that affect the workplace. While previously isolated to pockets of individuals with known international connections, the virus is now propagating domestically, something that public-health experts call “community spread.”

To combat the threat of the outbreak and provide some assurance, it’s critical that organizations create an internal communication plan. The goal is to create an open dialogue with employees – to help them understand how their work environment is being affected, to combat the negative emotions in connection with the virus, and to help employees understand what is being done to ensure their well being.

Here are 4 action items to include in your communication plan, and steps to take to create a healthier work environment.

1. Acknowledge COVID-19

The virus is not a secret and your employees are already talking about it. Send out official communication via email or flyers in the office to formally acknowledge it. There is a lot of misinformation out there about the virus, so find trusted sources and establish to your employees what the virus is.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have verified and accurate COVID-19 information and prevention advice. Include these as resources in your communications.

Create fact sheets to display on your workplace digital signage screens to increase the reach of your messaging and improve retention. Email may be read once or twice, but digital signage is easily accessible and highly visible, which means the information displayed on the screens will be easier to remember.

Our team created fact sheets that you can easily display for your employees. Feel free to download the editable slides at the bottom of this blog.

How to Handle Coronavirus Concerns in the Workplace

2. Encourage regular hand-washing

Since news of the virus broke, I have been washing my hands like I’m a surgeon (countless hours of watching Grey’s Anatomy are finally paying off). Remind your employees to wash their hands often and avoid touching their mouth, eyes or nose to prevent the spread of the disease.

The CDC published guidelines on how and when to wash your hands –  lathering and rubbing the backs of the hands, between your fingers and under your nails for 20 seconds. If you need a timer, a simple one is to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice from beginning to end.

To remind employees to wash their hands and reinforce this habit, place hand-washing reminders around your facility, and make sure your hand sanitizer and soap dispensers are stocked and paper towels are available.

3. Actively encourage respiratory etiquette and for sick employees to stay home

There are two main principles of respiratory etiquette:

  • cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, preferably with your inner elbow. If you use a tissue dispose it in a covered bin or trash.
  • use facemasks if you show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.

The CDC also strongly recommends that employees stay home if they are sick. Symptoms of the virus include fever, coughing, respiratory problems and shortness of breath. Often, we have employees who will soldier on through sickness in order to meet deadlines and not be overwhelmed by a backlog of work. Now is the time to discourage that behavior and instead actively encourage sick employees to stay home.

Health professionals recommend that sick employees stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever, signs of a fever and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines.

Employers need to ensure that the sick leave policy is flexible and consistent with public health guidance. They should also ensure that employees are well aware of these policies.

4. Talk with employees about travel plans

For employees who had made prior travelling plans or who absolutely cannot void travel, encourage them to check for travelers’ health notices in regards to their travel destinations. The CDC also recommends employees check themselves for any symptoms before starting travel.

For employers, EEOC’s guidance has stated that an employer need not wait until an employee develops flu-like symptoms after travel to ask questions about exposure during a trip.

Maintaining Open Dialogue  

While the CDC maintains that the health risk from COVID-19 remains low for the general American public, businesses should consider adopting outbreak response plans.

Employers are encouraged to review the following objectives in creating a plan:

  1. reduce virus transmission among employees
  2. protect people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications
  3. maintain business operations
  4. minimize adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains

Importantly, the CDC cautions employers to anticipate fear, rumors, anxiety and misinformation from scared employees. When employers respond by providing current and accurate information, they will avoid the spread of panic, while showing employees that you care for their welfare.

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To help you get started with an internal communication plan for COVID-19, Mvix is providing free fact sheets for you to download and display on your digital signage screens. We also have free 30-second videos with content themed around returning to work.

Download the COVID-19 Fact Sheets