It’s time for your group to prepare for coronavirus

Events around the world are being cancelled due to the coronavirus disease. From the Tokyo Marathon in Japan, to the European electronic music festival Tomorrowland Winter, and even Google and Facebook’s developer conferences in the United States, leaders of large organizations are taking precautions to ensure participant safety.

Coronavirus is spreading at alarming rates. While the disease may not be life threatening to healthy individuals, it has already taken the lives of many others, and currently there is no vaccine or cure. People who contract the disease can be asymptomatic and still transmit the disease, and the disease can live on contacted surfaces for days.

“It’s critical for all organizations with in person meetings, large and small, to be vigilant and take the proper safety precautions to help reduce the spread of coronavirus” says Dr. Thomas H. Winters MD, FACOEM, FACPM, President and Chief Medical Officer of OEHN.

Group leaders bringing people together in person should have a plan for dealing with the coronavirus. And it’s critical for the plans to be communicated regularly with their groups as well.

As a visiting scientist at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, and an expert in occupational health and infectious diseases, Dr. Winters advises research labs and corporations on how to handle situations like coronavirus. “To help prevent the spread of coronavirus, people should reduce physical contact, encourage proper handwashing and be vigilant about isolating people who are feeling sick with coronavirus symptoms” says Dr. Winters. “If you are showing signs of fever, shortness of breath and/or cough, do not join in person events and seek medical attention immediately.”

Dr. Winters is also advising people who travel to Level 2 Travel Ban countries and above to remain isolated for 14 days after returning. “Until we know more about the spread of coronavirus, we are advising anyone who has traveled in Level 2 countries or higher to not be in contact with others for 14 days because they are potentially at risk.”

While group leaders should continue to closely monitor live resources linked below, they can take specific actions today to help protect the safety of their groups and those around them.

Set guidelines for who should not be joining events

If anyone has fever, cough or difficulty breathing, they should seek medical care early and do not join group events. Until there is better testing or more clarity on the spread of coronavirus, anyone who has traveled in Level 2 Travel Ban countries countries should also not be joining group activities in person for 14 days.

Group leaders should take initiative for setting and regularly updating their group guidelines.

Reduce physical contact at events and encourage proper sanitation

Groups meeting in person should limit contact with one another. Handshakes, high fives, hugs and huddles should be suspended. While this may be inconsistent with group traditions, the group leader can instill this new practice on a temporary basis and provide context for members to understand.

Sharing drinks should also be banned, and proper handwashing before and after events should be mandated. Groups can bring hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if handwashing facilities are not available. While masks can combat touching of the face, the disease does not appear to spread by air alone.

All group members should be following basic respiratory etiquette, such as coughing and sneezing into a flexed elbow and avoid touching the face, nose, mouth and eyes.

Deal with stigmas that may form in your group

A contagious disease like coronavirus can lead to stigmas and potential discrimination in group settings. It’s important for group leaders to communicate directly with any stigmatized groups and speak out publicly to the group against negative behavior. Coronavirus safety can be handled without discrimination against race or work place occupation.

Communicate your plan clearly and frequently

Group leaders should articulate their plan and protocol clearly so that all members can access the information and be equally prepared. The plan should be clear, updated with the latest information and communicated often in the event that coronavirus circumstances change. All groups should have a digital and real time communication system in place to reach everyone and facilitate conversation. Heylo combines the reach of email with the urgency of messaging and can be used in these circumstances. It’s critical for all group members to access the same information reliably, and also have a path to ask questions or express concerns to group leaders.

Coronavirus is not the end of your community!

While a global event like coronavirus may hinder meeting in person, you can still keep your group alive digitally. As recommended by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “find alternative solutions that will ensure continuity for your community,”

Digital communication tools allow community members to stay connected even if everyone can’t make the event. Fitness groups can provide remote training plans, or reading groups can recommend book topics to be discussed digitally over messaging. Instead of meeting in person, you can use video conferencing like Zoom for communication, or share pictures from workouts and individual activities on Heylo.

Groups are getting creative with digital photo check-ins, message-based meetings or sharing summaries of in person meetings as well. Sharing digitally also ensures that those who cannot participate in person can still feel part of the community.

In times of need, our communities are more important than ever to help everyone feel safe and be healthy. Group leaders play an important role in the overall health of our groups and people throughout the world. Take action, communicate clearly and stay positive!

Resources to stay updated on coronavirus

Best practices from the World Health Organization

US CDC Interim Guidance for community recommendations

John Hopkins CSSE reporting live global coronavirus cases