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Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that are common and are typically associated with mild illnesses, similar to the common cold.
A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. The severe diseases have included:
In late 2019, a coronavirus was identified in China (Wuhan City), and was initially known as 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). An illness was reported on December 31st, 2019, and confirmation of the coronavirus identification occurred on January 7th, 2020. Formally, the disease is now known as coronavirus disease or COVID-19. The virus causing the disease is known as "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" (SARS-CoV-2).
This document will discuss general precautions a workplace can take to help lower the spread of coronaviruses. For updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, please see:
Do everything possible, under the circumstances, to protect the health and safety of workers and customers by providing adequate information, education/training, cleaning and disinfecting, and recommending measures such as non-medical masks or personal protective equipment, as appropriate.
Workplaces should have a policy in place that outlines their requirements when people may be sick or absent to care for others. This policy should indicate how to notify the workplace, and if there is a requirement for a doctor's note and when. Organizations may wish to suspend the need for a doctor's or medical note for the absence to reduce the burden on the health care system.
During a pandemic, businesses may be forced to close or to operate using low-contact methods. Allow employees to work remotely where possible. Assess the need to report directly to the workplace on an individual or job role basis.
Keep records of who was present at the workplace each day. If an employee or client is confirmed to have COVID-19, consult with public health for guidance on next steps.
Encourage physical distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette at all times.
Screening methods such as checklists and temperature checks may be used when employees report to work. Use a screening questionnaire from a public health agency, and remind employees to stay at home if they have symptoms of COVID-19, even if mild.
Pandemics often occur in waves, meaning periods of higher restrictive measures may be reintroduced if infection rates increase.
Monitor the situation by visiting the organizations listed above for more information.
Workplaces can help by having an infection control plan which includes details such as:
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they usually begin in animals. For example, investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans, and MERS-CoV was transmitted from dromedary camels to humans.
In some cases, the coronavirus can evolve further and spread from person-to-person. The route of transmission is not always known, but the viruses are generally thought to spread by respiratory droplets when people are in close contact.
SARS-CoV-2 spreads by:
Health Canada states that with SARS-CoV-2, person to person spread does occur when there is close contact.
Generally speaking, examples of close contact include:
Each coronavirus will vary in the severity of infection it causes. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
COVID 2019 presents with fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g., cough or difficulty breathing). Common symptoms include:
There is also evidence indicates that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be transmitted by someone who is infected but not showing symptoms, including people who
Identification for SARS-CoV-2 is made through tests as well as the person’s history (especially recent travel).
People caring for individuals with COVID 2019 are at the greatest risk for contracting the disease such as health care workers in acute care hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals, mental health hospitals, long term care facilities, emergency departments, and others who work close to their clients or patients.
Persons living with individuals with COVID 2019 may also be at risk for contracting the disease. Individuals who are older (over 65), or who have underlying medical conditions or compromised immune systems are also at higher risk.
Standard recommendations from the World Health Organization to the public to prevent the spread of infection include:
The general guidelines for public and most workplaces (non-healthcare) are outlined in the following documents:
If using gloves when cleaning, always wear the appropriate type of glove for the product you are using. The appropriate type of glove material will be listed on that product's safety data sheet (SDS). If this information is missing, contact the supplier or manufacturer of the product. Manufacturers of chemical protective gloves and clothing may also assist their customers in making appropriate choices.
For health care workplaces, the following precautions should help prevent transmission. In addition, check with organizations such as Health Canada, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) who will be monitoring any new situation, and will include specific infection control guidance for workers at risk as the information becomes available.
As stated by the Government of Canada:
“In addition to the consistent application of routine practices, follow contact and droplet precautions. This [procedure] includes the appropriate selection and use of all of the following personal protective equipment (PPE):
Hand hygiene should be performed whenever indicated, paying particularly attention to during and after removal of PPE, and after leaving the patient care environment.”
Note that no single respirator or any type of personal protective equipment (PPE) can be expected to provide protection against all types of hazards. Be sure you are wearing the correct PPE for the task. If PPE is used, it should be managed as part of a complete PPE program which will include selection, fitting, training, inspection, use, cleaning, maintenance, and storage as appropriate.
The following are practices that can be used in healthcare or similar workplaces. In all cases, follow the recommendations of your workplace as there may be considerations specific to a situation that require other practices.
Use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer at the point-of-care as the preferred method for hand hygiene in all healthcare settings unless certain exceptions apply. Hands must be cleaned before and after contact with a patient, after contact with body fluids, and after contact with items known to be contaminated with respiratory secretions.
Gloves should be used as an additional measure, not as a substitute for hand washing. Gloves must be put on before contact with the patient and they should be removed and hands washed before leaving the patient's room.
Long sleeved gowns should be worn by all health care workers if direct contact with the patient is anticipated.
Respirators / Masks
Respirators used in health care settings should be selected according to the efficiency of respirator filters in its ability to filter aerosols and according to the type of procedure to be carried out.
As stated in the Canadian Biosafety Handbook, Second Edition, "Where applicable, respiratory protection should conform to standard CSA Z94.4, Selection, Use and Care of Respirators" and "Using the wrong respirator or misusing one can be as dangerous as not wearing one at all."
A common respirator used in health care facilities is the N95 disposable respirator. N95 filters belong to a group of respirators that contain air purifying particulate filters. N95 type respirators are recommended by the Government of Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for use by health care workers in contact with patients with infections that are transmitted from inhaling airborne droplets (e.g., tuberculosis (TB), and are also recommended for health care staff working with patients having or suspected of having a severe coronavirus).
In comparison, surgical masks, while not a respirator by definition, can be effective barriers for retaining large droplets which can be released from the wearer through talking, coughing, or sneezing. The mask must cover the user's mouth and nose. However, surgical masks are not designed to protect the wearer by filtering or blocking very small particles in the air.
It is important to understand the benefits and limitations of each type of respirator or mask. Respirators must be fitted to the face appropriately for a good seal to be effective. For more information, please see:
After handling a used respirator or mask, wash your hands immediately.
Eye / Face Protection
Eye protection, face shields (with safety glasses or goggles), and/or visors are recommended for health care workers where there is a potential for splattering or spraying of blood or other body fluids.
If recommended at your workplace, dispose of used shoe covers in appropriate waste bin. Do not reuse shoe covers.
Cleaning and Disinfecting
In many cases, regular detergents or cleaning solutions can be used to clean the items, utensils, bedding and clothing that have been in contact with an infected patient. Items that are regularly touched such as doorknobs, handles, and bed rails should be cleaned more often.