Late last year the CDC reported on an event that led to a huge outbreak of COVID-19. The report details how one guest who reported COVID-19 systems the day after attending a wedding held in Maine, spread to over 177 positive cases and seven deaths. None of the people who died had attended the wedding or reception.
It was failures in prevention at four separate businesses that fanned the coronavirus spread. Collectively, they provide a case study on lapses that companies need to actively avoid in 2021 as new viral strains demand more vigilance than ever. You can read more about this case study in the SafetyTek blog.
Here are some key lessons we can all learn from this event.
The quick action by the East Millinocket School helped to contain the viral spread to eight people. This demonstrates the importance of having a mitigation plan in place so that an organization can move immediately if a possible infection is detected. It also stands in sharp contrast to the York County Jail, which had a one-week lag in implementing mitigation measures recommended by the CDC and ended up with ten times as many COVID-19 cases.
Still, schools in three districts remained closed for two weeks. For many businesses, having to shut down for that length of time could translate into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. Clearly, mitigation is too little, too late. The focus needs to be on prevention.
Onsite, that means adhering to coronavirus prevention guidelines provided by the CDC and other health organizations. Both the Big Moose Inn and York County Jail failed to enforce mask mandates, among other lapses. It’s likely that by August, employees at these organizations were experiencing coronavirus fatigue.
We all will be susceptible to fatigue as COVID-19 measures extend well into 2021. The fact is, long-term exposure to any potential risk leads to complacency. Companies in high-risk industries, such as construction, oil and gas, and other utilities conduct regular safety meetings which have been shown to decrease injuries by roughly 80%. Other industries too can follow their lead with regular safety training.
The complacency at both the Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center and York County Jail, which allowed staff members with coronavirus symptoms to continue working on-site, points to another issue. We need to stop potentially exposed employees from coming into contact with co-workers, customers, patients, students, and others in the first place.
At many business locations, it’s common to see concierges or greeters check each worker’s temperature and ask a brief set of questions before allowing that person to enter the building. With the SafetyTek COVID-19 Workforce Health Analysis solution, companies can go a step further and ask employees to self-report their COVID-19 risk remotely via their mobile phones. If they get an “OK” response, they can go to the worksite and use their mobile phones to show greeters they have approval to enter. If they get a warning indicator of potential COVID-19 risk, they have to wait for a manager or supervisor to advise them on the appropriate course of action to protect the health of other workers.
Of course, this type of self-reporting is only effective if companies have established a sense of safety and trust. Employees who fear lost wages or being shunned may hesitate to report symptoms or potential contact. Businesses can alleviate these concerns by implementing policies that offer paid leave or an ability to make up shifts for employees who need to quarantine and can’t work from home. Managers can further reduce employee fears by engaging in communications that recognize workers with confirmed or potential infections as heroes for protecting their colleagues.
We are now seeing spikes in coronavirus cases that dwarf many of the incidents we saw previously. As we kick-off 2021, we should all take to heart the hard lessons of how business failures, such as those in Maine, can fuel super spreader events. Now is the time to strengthen not just our resolve but also our coronavirus prevention processes to protect employees, customers, and the community.