What Utah’s coronavirus task force wants employers to know

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist from the Utah Department of Health, talks about one of the main ways the coronavirus (COVID-19) spread, as she address the outbreak on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, during a YouTube Live webcast to share protective measures businesses can take in the workplace. When a question was asked about how to talk to kids about staying safe, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said "YouTube sneezing videos with them, It's gross but it really shows what happens."

Utah businesses on Tuesday received a briefing that sounded like a cross between food handlers training, negotiations with workers threatening a strike and the call you get when your supplier’s factory burns down.

Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist, gave some hygiene advice while also warning businesses to prepare for up to half their workers being absent and shortages in supply chains. She also asked businesses to take a role in reducing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“It is really going to take a community to really stop the spread of COVID-19,” Dunn said during a presentation at World Trade Center Utah. “It’s not just going to be public health” workers.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development helped produce the event and streamed it online to reach businesses across the state.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a candidate for governor who is in charge of Utah’s coronavirus task force, said the state cannot force employers to offer paid sick leave. But he encouraged businesses to pay sick employees to not work. That will keep workers from choosing to go to work to put food on the table rather than staying home with an illness, Cox said.

“In not giving that decision to give paid time off,” Cox said, “you may end up infecting everyone in your building.”

According to the 2019 Current Population Survey, 45% of Utah workers had some kind of paid time off. Nationwide, it was 55%.

[Read more: Complete coverage of the coronavirus]

Dunn gave the now-ubiquitous plea to wash hands and avoid touching your face or shaking hands. She also encouraged businesses to clean frequently touched surfaces — doorknobs, counters, telephones, keyboards, restrooms, etc. — at least twice a day. COVID-19 can live on surfaces for up to two days, Dunn said, but is eliminated by basic cleaning.

Businesses should cancel travel, Dunn said, to the countries with the highest numbers of coronavirus cases — China, South Korea, Turkey, Italy and Iran. Any employees returning from those countries should be monitoring themselves for symptoms — a fever, coughing or breathing problems.

Many patients will experience only mild symptoms and can work from home, Dunn said. Businesses should anticipate widespread absences by making plans now to have workers telecommute. Even workers who don’t get sick may have children who are home from school, she said.

Miles Hansen, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah, which helps promote international business in the state, said companies that lack teleconferencing or telecommuting technology can contact his offices to ask for assistance in acquiring it.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox is joined by Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist from the Utah Department of Health, as they address the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, during a YouTube Live webcast to share protective measures businesses can take in the workplace.

Dunn also encouraged businesses to think about staggering shifts, so fewer workers are present at the same time, to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Supervisors need to start training employees to do an absent co-worker’s job, she added.

Some workers may not want others to know they are sick, Dunn said, and may ask employers to keep their circumstances confidential.

“So think of ways to kind of minimize that rumor mill within your own offices,” she said.

Dunn told managers to start making plans for disruptions in their supply chains and how reduced travel and the cancellation of mass gatherings will affect their businesses.

Dean Martinez is the name behind Dean M. Martinez and Associates, a Utah business with contracts to build and manage housing in Nigeria. He is scheduled to travel to that country in April.

Martinez attended Tuesday’s briefing in order to learn what surfaces to clean in the housing common areas for years to come.

“This thing is forever,” Martinez said. “Even if they get an antidote for it, I don’t know that they know what causes it.”

Anyone exposed to the virus is being asked to isolate themselves for 14 days after the exposure.

People with symptoms of coronavirus have to pass two tests at least 24 hours apart in order to be deemed healthy, Dunn said.

Dunn said she has heard rumors of employers requiring a doctor’s note before admitting someone back to work. She asked businesses and workers to instead follow those testing and exposure guidelines rather than occupying a physician with a request for paperwork.

“So if you’re requiring them to have a doctor’s note,” Dunn said, “you’re actually contributing to overwhelming our health system.”