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The Next Public Health Crisis. Are You Prepared?

As we continue to manage the ongoing COVID-19 situation one can’t help but think – what have we learned and how should we prepare for something like the COVID-19 pandemic in the future?

In many ways the pandemic caught us off guard, especially the speed of spread and the impact on both the health care systems and the economy. This pandemic was bad, but could we face something worse in the future with an infectious agent that spreads via food and has a higher morbidity and mortality rate? These are clearly not fun things to think about, but it is an area where we do need to learn and plan going forward.

All that being said, there are still many day-to-day public health issues that we have to manage, and so we are focusing on those and questions a business could have to face at any time:

What should I do when?

  • An employee called in to work this morning saying she has been diagnosed with tuberculosis…
  • There’s been an outbreak of (measles, hepatitis, Ebola, MRSA, etc.) in my community…
  • A customer with whom a number of my employees had to interact had a hacking cough and now my employees are worried …
  • I heard there’s a new epidemic in (name the country), and we all know how quickly COVID spread! …

What do you do?

None of us want to relive the last 18 months and all the uncertainties, challenges, and business impacts that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is very likely that we will – in one form or another – sometime in the not-so-distant future. And when it occurs, it will be important that we remember and apply all the lessons we’ve learned through the pandemic.

There have been many, many lessons, but I want to focus in on just two:

  1. Expect the unexpected – but stay informed.
  2. Be prepared. Have your programs ready.
  1. Expect the unexpected – but stay informed. COVID-19 began its rout at the end of 2019. But if we look back on what we were doing in 2019 in both your business and your personal lives, we were leading our lives with no inkling of what the next year would hold. We now know that the unexpected can be waiting just around the corner, but it did provide some hints of its existence well before anyone took action. We don’t know what may hit the world next, but our eyes have been opened to the speed of which a public health occurrence can impact the entire world. We’ve learned that a viral infection in Asia can spread globally in months, or even weeks, and have an enormous impact.

The global nature of our world is unquestionable, which is generally a good thing; but that same global nature can spread negative events. So it is critical that we all keep our eyes open for changes on the global stage, that we stay informed, and not shrug off a event, a public health crisis, just because it has not yet landed on our doorstep.

  1. Be prepared. So, it inevitably follows that the best way to weather the unexpected is to be prepared and take action before it is at our doors. We need to have programs built and ready to roll out before we are in the midst of a public health crisis – as occurred with COVID-19. We need to apply the lessons learned in the last 18 months; continue to engage with global news and reports; and build out, and continually update, public-health crisis-management programs to both protect employees and give them a level of comfort that the company is doing all it can to help inform and protect them while continuing to operate the business.

This is particularly important for those in critical infrastructure businesses, such as food and beverage and other manufacturing, education, and public health itself. Keeping these businesses running means being prepared for a crisis; it means having programs to keep employees protected and healthy; it means having policies that enable the unhealthy to stay home and prevent spread; it means having a good communication system with your employees even if they are at home; it means regularly practicing the public health crisis management program – just we regularly practice recall and other crisis management programs.

There is a human tendency to allow the negative events of our past to stay in the past and forget them as much as possible. But as responsible businesses, we must not only remember COVID-19’s difficulties, challenges, and negative impacts, we must use them, learn from them, and apply those lessons to help ensure we don’t go through that again. To ensure we are more prepared – and know what to do … when an employee calls in sick with tuberculosis; there is a public health outbreak in your community; employees fear a customer’s illness, or a new epidemic occurs anywhere in the world.

With our in-depth public health knowledge and expertise, we can help get you through the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic and be prepared for the next public health crisis. We offer assistance with program development, assessment, or review; public health crisis management; and communications and training – including Townhall Meetings providing a situation overview and opportunity for employees and/or your leadership team to ask questions that impact them on a business or personal level. Give us a call for more information – or to schedule your Townhall Meeting.


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