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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).
Viruses can change over time. As the Public Health Agency of Canada states:
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will naturally develop mutations, which are changes to the genetic material in the virus over time.
When there have been several significant mutations to the virus then it’s called a variant. A variant is of concern when it affects:
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 and when 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 asked to close or to operate using reduced staff (to promote physical distancing and reduce overcrowding) or to use low-contact methods. Allow workers to work remotely where possible. Assess each individual or job role to determine who or what tasks can be performed remotely.
Keep records of who was present at the workplace each day. If a worker 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.
Maintain or improve ventilation to reduce the build up of respiratory aerosols. Work with a professional to make sure your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system is working properly. The HVAC system should have the appropriate filter, be suitable to the setting/activity and number of occupants present, be suitable for how long the space is used, and be adjusted to exchange air as much as possible if needed.
Move activities outdoors where possible. If indoors, open windows or doors to introduce fresh air where possible (if weather permits, and where safe to do so).
Screening methods such as checklists and temperature checks may be used when workers report to work. Use a screening questionnaire from a public health agency, and remind workers 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 tighten or loosen in response to local infection rates.
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 have an animal origin. 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 these viruses are generally thought to spread by airborne respiratory droplets and aerosols between people who are in close contact.
SARS-CoV-2 spreads by:
Health Canada states that with SARS-CoV-2, person to person spread occurs when there is close contact. It is also possible for aerosols stay in the air for a period of time, especially in indoor spaces that are poorly ventilated. People can become infected with COVID-19 when a droplet or aerosol containing the coronavirus comes into contact with the mucous membranes of their nose, mouth, eyes, or lungs.
Generally speaking, examples of close contact include:
Each coronavirus will vary in the severity of infection it causes. COVID-19 is known to cause a variety of symptoms with the result being a range that includes both a very mild illness, or it may be fatal to others. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
COVID-19 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
Diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection is determined by medical test as well as the person’s exposure history.
People caring for individuals with COVID-19 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 in close contact with their clients or patients. However, any occupation that has frequent, close and prolonged interactions between people from different households can increase the risk of transmission.
Persons living with individuals with COVID-19 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 at higher risk of developing serious disease outcomes from COVID-19.
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.
For example, guidance for health care workplaces is outlined in the document “COVID-19: For health professionals” from the Government of Canada. There are infection prevention and control measures for various health care settings including acute care, long-term care, homecare, and outpatient and ambulatory care.
Measures may include: