Norovirus Crisis Management Tips

New strain of virus ups importance of specific crisis prevention planning

Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that a new strain of the disease norovirus, known for causing “nausea, forceful vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain” has crossed over to the U.S. from Australia.

According to the CDC, the new strain of norovirus accounted for 58% of reported cases of the virus last month. Frequently called “stomach flu” or confused with food poisoning, norovirus is a nasty disease that frequently takes those affected out of commission for one to three days and, as with most diseases, is particularly hard on children and the elderly.

CDC stats show 1 in 15 Americans will catch some type of norovirus each year, and the virus causes over 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths per year in the U.S. alone.

Norovirus presents the most significant risk to organizations such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, daycare centers, schools, hotels and cruise ships because it spreads so quickly from person to person. What can you do to protect your business, employees and customers?

Spot the symptoms

Norovirus has many of the same symptoms as the flu, another virus that is commonly ignored until half the workplace is out sick and you’re working with a skeleton crew. Teach employees how to recognize symptoms early, and that it’s better to stay home than risk infecting the rest of the workplace. It costs very little to put things like remote-office programs in place to help minimize any lost productivity.

The CDC’s Norovirus homepage has plenty of helpful information to share as well.

Stop the spread

Remind employees that it’s critical to not only the health of customers or clients, but also their own, that they religiously follow proper procedure regarding regular hand washing, cleaning of produce, cooking of meat, and the disinfecting and washing of any even potentially contaminated surfaces, including laundry.

You can’t count on your employees to be diligent about this on their own either, if it takes instituting log books or random inspections then don’t hesitate to do so. There may be some grumbling, but it won’t be as loud as the one coming from their stomachs if they catch a case of norovirus!

Be prepared to talk

If, despite your best efforts, a norovirus infection sweeps your office, ship, school, etc, people are going to want answers. Be prepared to explain not only exactly what happened – from how the virus got a foothold to how many people were infected or hospitalized – but also what you were doing to prevent the situation in advance and what your plans are to minimize its changes of happening in the future.

The real danger for your organization in this type of crisis is in the chance of appearing incompetent, uncaring or unprepared – all pitfalls that are easily avoided. If you put real time and effort into planning, train everyone to handle their roles properly and remember to sprinkle a heavy dose of compassion through your communications with stakeholders and statements to the media, then you will be well equipped to weather a norovirus crisis.

By Jonathan and Erik Bernstein

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