NOTE: This blog was posted on March 6, 2020. In the current context, information is changing on a rapid basis. Given these frequent changes, we recommend regularly consulting the Public Health Agency of Canada and your regional public health authority for the most up to date guidance and recommendations.
Coronavirus. We’re hearing about it on a daily basis and it has caused a significant degree of fear and uncertainty. Whether such fear is warranted is yet to be seen but in the face of uncertainty there are some things individuals and organizations can do.
It seems obvious, but to effectively respond to an issue we need to first effectively understand it. For example, did you know that one of the key preventative measures to reduce the risk of infection is washing your hands with soap and water?
There are a number of places you can look to for reliable information on COVID-19 (as coronavirus is also known):
- Public Health Agency of Canada
- Travel and Tourism Canada (travel advisories)
- World Health Organization
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Provincial & Territorial Health Agencies
- Local / Regional Public Health Agencies
There is, as of yet, no national crisis and the current risk to Canadians remains low. As of March 5, 2020 45 cases of COVIS-19 had been confirmed in Canada: 22 in Ontario, 21 in BC, 2 in Quebec and 1 in Alberta. But this is a good reminder that organizations should be prepared for a variety of unexpected situations, including how to respond to viral or infectious outbreaks. So what should charities do to protect their employees and volunteers?
The World Health Organization provides some helpful recommendations as workplaces prepare for COVID-19, including:
- Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic – wipe surfaces regularly with disinfectant
- Promote hand-washing
- Promote good respiratory hygiene
- Brief employees that if COVID-19 starts spreading in your community, then even those with mild symptoms should stay at home
- Consult national travel advisories before going on business trips
*Note that for churches and charities involved in international ministries, adjusting travel plans may be complicated. Speak with your insurance provider and consider the risk management policy and contingency plans that you already have in place to help guide any decisions
The CDC has additional recommendations for workplaces, including:
- Identify any work-related exposure and health risks to your employees
- Ensure your human resources policies are consistent with current public health recommendations
- Consider implementing remote work arrangements or staggered shifts
- Identify essential organizational functions, roles or jobs necessary to maintain operations and plan for illness or disruption
- Establish clear communication processes to inform employees of risk, preventative measures, any organizational response plan, and what will trigger its application
It may also be prudent to review your workplace sick leave policies with staff and become familiar with various employment standards provisions such as unpaid sick leave, to which employees are entitled.
For example, in Ontario, employees have the right to take up to three days of unpaid job-protected sick leave each calendar year. If an employee has a medical certificate indicating that they cannot work because of sickness or quarantine, they may also be entitled to Employment Insurance benefits.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, a CCCC Certified Member, published this article in the wake of the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. Many of the suggestions and resources it contains are relevant to how churches can effectively prepare and respond.
For Christian charities, there is another dimension to consider. Even
though the future may be uncertain, we do not need to fear. Without ignoring
the risks, we should continue to trust in the Lord’s promises and purposes. Let
us pray for those in need as we keep on sharing the hope and healing that can
be found in Christ alone.
 The Canadian government has identified China, Northern Italy and Iran as “Level 3” risk. Canadians are advised to avoid all non-essential travel to these regions. Japan and South Korea are identified as “Level 2” risk and travelers are advised to practice special precautions in those regions. People who have traveled to Hubei province, China, are asked to self-isolate and stay home for 14 days upon their return to Canada and contact their local public health authority within 24 hours of arrival.
Noteworthy is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Every organization’s circumstances are unique. Before acting on the basis of information contained in this blog, readers should consult with a qualified lawyer for advice specific to their situation.