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Useful information about the coronavirus outbreak

In the midst of a worldwide health crisis and as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, i.e. COVID-19, cases keep increasing, it is easy to fall victim to panic, fear, and misinformation. At BRZ, the health and safety of our community is our foremost concern. In light of the state of emergency declared in Massachusetts by Governor Baker, we have gathered some information below to help guide you through these troubling times.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus seen in humans for the first time. It was first identified in Wuhan, China but cases have now been confirmed in dozens of countries all over the world. As of March 10th, there are 92 confirmed and presumptive cases in Massachusetts. The general term coronavirus refers to a big family of viruses which are responsible for a wide spectrum of illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe ones such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). 

According to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, MD, the Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, COVID-19 is capable of spreading easily and sustainably from person-to-person and there is no inherent immunity in the population because it is new. Given the trajectory of the disease, there is a fair chance that a large part of the population will be exposed to the virus and may become sick but most people are not expected to develop serious illness. The virus appears to mostly affect adults, and most seriously older adults. There is an increased risk of death starting at 60 or if there are underlying health conditions. This risk increases with age with the highest risk for illness and death being in people over 80 years old.

  1. The best way to get reliable information and regular updates is to check reputable sources such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Boston Public Health Commission, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
  2. Follow simple health safety measures: 
    • Frequently wash your hands with soap. Hand washing should last for at least 20 seconds in order to be properly effective.
    • Cover your cough and/or sneeze. Cough and sneeze into your elbow instead of the palm of your hands to minimize the spread of germs to objects and surfaces you may touch after coughing or sneezing.
    • Regularly clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that you frequently come into contact with. That includes your phone since it is likely to pick up germs from multiple places throughout the day. Use alcohol-based gels and rubs or disinfecting wipes.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • For the time being, avoid gatherings with large crowds when possible.
  3. If you start feeling sick and have flu-like symptoms such as a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, try to stay home. A fever is a temperature of 100.4°F/38°C or higher. If you think you may need medical attention, call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or an emergency room. Massachusetts insurers will cover the cost of testing and treatment for the new coronavirus following the directive of Insurance Commissioner Gary Anderson.
  4. The virus can spread asymptomatically which means that you may be a carrier and not be aware of it. While large numbers of people may be exposed to the virus and emerge unscathed or with moderate symptoms, all health safety precautions should be followed in order to protect the more vulnerable members of our community such as the elderly.
  5. Avoid wearing a face mask unless you are sick. Face masks actually gather germs, particularly when they are worn improperly, and can make you sick. Additionally, hoarding masks means you may contribute to a shortage that can affect healthcare workers who need them to perform their duties. Only wear a mask if you are already sick in order to try and prevent the spread of germs to others.
  6. As you may have heard, there is a number of people who have been directed to self-quarantine. That means they stay at home and do not go to work or school for 14 days while they monitor the condition of their health. The CDC recommends checking body temperature twice a day and being vigilant of flu-like symptoms. 
  7. Others, have been advised to limit interactions (e.g. due to travel to countries like Japan). According to the CDC that means avoiding public transportation (the T, taxis, and ride-shares), avoiding crowded places (such as schools, malls, movie theaters, and churches), and keeping a distance from others (6 feet or 2 meters).
  8. If you have recently traveled abroad, refer to the CDC’s Updated Guidelines for travelers returning to the US. The CDC currently recommends avoiding all non-essential travel to China and Italy due to widespread, sustained, and ongoing transmission.
  9. If you are a business owner, take a look at the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers in order to ensure you are prepared to handle any occurrences. The CDC suggests that employers actively encourage sick employees to stay home, to be flexible with sick leave policies, to make sure those policies follow public health guidance, and that employees are aware of those policies. It is also advisable to encourage proper respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene and to routinely clean shared spaces and surfaces like workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. From an insurance standpoint, according to Thomas Bick of Butzel Long “a business that suffers direct or indirect business interruption losses due to the spread of the coronavirus should check its commercial property policy to determine if it has business interruption or contingent business interruption coverage.  If so, it may be insured against the resulting loss of income, at least over the “restoration period” specified in the policy.”

Acting rationally during an infectious disease public health crisis and trusting the advice of experts is the surest way to effectively contain it. When we work together as a community, we can help protect the most vulnerable among us, support those who become affected, and be a part of minimizing the virus’ impact.

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