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CDC Releases New Flu Preparedness Guidance

Department of Commerce (DOC) Secretary Gary Locke, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius held a joint news conference Aug. 19 to announce new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for businesses to prepare for and respond to the upcoming flu season.

Actions Employers Should Take Now

Emphasis was made on businesses implementing a flexible work policy that permitted employees to stay home if they or family members became ill or were exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

DOC Secretary Locke said at the conference, “Some businesses now require workers to provide doctors’ notes or other paperwork to prove that they or their love ones had to miss work because of illness. That’s a requirement that employers should consider dropping.” Such a requirement, Secretary Locke reasoned, would put too much of a burden on health care facilities at a time when they will be operating at full capacity.

Businesses would do well to align with local health departments in adopting common sense policies, federal officials said, such as instructing employees to wash hands frequently and cover coughs. Employers should also encourage employees to receive the flu vaccine and, when available, the H1N1 vaccine. Somewhere between 45 million and 52 million doses of H1N1 vaccine are expected to be available by mid-October, according to an Aug. 21 CDC press briefing.

“Let’s not just play ‘wait and see.’ Let’s be proactive,” said DHS Secretary Napolitano.

Recommended Action Steps under Current Flu Conditions

While it is important for businesses to look after employees, they should also implement certain steps for self preservation. In particular, the CDC recommends businesses prepare for increased numbers of employee absences due to illness, or closure of schools and childcare programs, and plan ways for essential business functions to continue. Recommendations include cross training employees and implementing a work-from-home policy.

Under Conditions with Increased Severity

In the event that conditions worsen, employers should consider active screening of employees who report to work. Other things businesses can do to limit exposure include disinfecting common surfaces, increasing social distancing, and canceling non-essential travel and meetings.

New CDC H1N1 guidance for colleges, universities, and institutions of higher education was also released Aug. 20.

Health care workers can find a plethora of information regarding flu preparedness, such as the CDC planning guide “10 Steps You Can Take: Actions for Novel H1N1 Influenza Planning and Response for Medical Offices and Outpatient Facilities,” available on the Flu.gov Web site.

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