Communicable Diseases: Resources for Prevention and Mitigation

Communicable diseases, pandemic influenzas, and coronavirus (COVID-19), have the potential to infect large numbers of people, and therefore to interrupt governmental operations.  According to FEMA, pandemic-causing viruses have three characteristics in common:

  1. Has the ability to reproduce and spread rapidly through contact with infected humans;
  2. Has the ability to mutate rapidly;
  3. Cause a “second wave” of victims, often among healthcare workers and others who are working to contain the pandemic.

According to Ready.Gov, everybody should, at a minimum, do the following to limit the spread of communicable diseases:

  1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick;
  2. Stay home from work, school and errands when sick;
  3. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing;
  4. Wash your hands often;
  5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth;
  6. Practice other good health habits.

To learn more about preventing the spread of communicable diseases, and protecting your family, please review the websites below for more information

Employees should be advised that if a person feels ill, or if someone observes that another person is exhibiting flu-like symptoms at work, they must contact their supervisor by telephone, if possible.  If there is a pandemic event, your agency is advised to do the following to manage sick employees:

  1. Speak with the individual by phone (avoid person-to-person contact with this individual, if possible).
  2. Determine with the employee if he/she has any influenza symptoms.
    • If the employee does not have any symptoms, he/she may likely not have a communicable disease and should be reassured, but should be advised to call his/her doctor is he/she is still concerned.
    • If the employee has flu-like symptoms, he/she should be treated as a “suspected influenza case.”
  3. Provide employee with a surgical mask and instruct him/her to wear a mask immediately.  This is to help protect other staff.
  4. Instruct employee to leave work.  If possible, public transportation should be avoided.  If public transportation is unavoidable, instruct the employee to keep a mask on and cough or sneeze into a tissue while traveling.
  5. Advise the employee to contact a health professional.  This may involve phoning the person’s normal doctor or a specially designated center to seek advice.
  6. Advise the employee on how long to stay away from work.
  7. Inform the employee’s manager that he/she has left work.
  8. Have the employee’s work station, along with any other known places that he/she has been, thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.  Staff should be reminded not to share cups, dishes, and cutlery, and ensure they are thoroughly washed with soap and hot water after use.  Magazines/papers should be removed from waiting rooms and common areas.
  9. SORM my ask a department to: (1) identify contacts (once an employee is suspected to be infected); (2) advise contacts they have been in contact with a person suspected of having a communicable disease; and/or (3) ask contact to go home, and stay home until advised otherwise.
  10. Set up a system to manage the absence and return-to-work of the employee and his/her contacts.  Include:
    • Decisions on sick leave and cover arrangements;
    • Checking on the employee during his/her absence from work;
    • A process for ensuring the employee is healthy and not infectious before allowing his/her to return to work; and  
    • Encourage employee to return to work once he/she has recovered.

A widespread pandemic may affect your agency’s ability to function, as large swaths of your workforce are unable to report to work.  Without a plan to deal with a diminished workforce, your agency will not be able to provide essential services to your customers.  To mitigate this risk, each agency should integrate a pandemic plan into their COOP Plan.  According to FEMA standards, COOP plans should include deliberate methods to measure, monitor, and adjust actions to changing conditions and improved protection strategies:

  • Follow guidance and/or direction issued by health officials;
  • Develop actionable plans and procedures to assist in the ability to remain operational during a pandemic (Plans and procedures may include social distancing protocols, telework; personal protective equipment, and temporary suspension of non-essential activities);
  • Review continuity communications programs to ensure they are fully capable of supporting pandemic emergencies;
  • Control access into your facilities;
  • Make alternate facilities available for staff to implement social distancing protocols.

To learn more about COOP planning for pandemic diseases, please review the websites below: