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Preparing for a Possible Public Health Emergency

Recent spreads of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola and other diseases mean that we can expect new and emerging viral pandemics in the future. That is on top of combatting seasonal influenza (flu) every year.
“Our members are among the best equipped individuals to help the public we serve,” said AFT Connecticut Vice President John Brady, RN. “The nature of our work also means that we’re also among the most at-risk for exposure. Protocols for ensuring their well-being are critical,” added Brady, who previously worked as a nurse in the emergency department at the William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. 
Click here for reporting on our national union’s response to the emerging crisis.
Brady and state federation leaders this week reached out to the presidents of our more than 90 affiliated local unions to offer support, access to resources and guidance. Among their initial recommendations were to initiate conversations with their members’ employers to coordinate plans for a possible outbreak of coronavirus, the flu or any other infectious disease.
Suggested topics for discussion include:
  • ability to work from home, if able; 
  • availability of protective equipment and training (especially for health professionals);
  • establishment of protocols for frequent cleaning of worksites;
  • adoption of non-punitive leave policies, including the ability to stay home to care for infected family members;
  • suspension of medical provider documentation requirement for use of leave time; &
  • guaranteed income for leave time, especially when quarantined at home due to exposure.
Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that spreads through cough, sneeze and direct or indirect contact with an infected person. According to the national Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), practicing proper hygiene will help decrease the likelihood of the spread of this disease. 
Effective individual prevention methods include:
  • coughing or sneezing into one’s sleeve;
  • frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
  • use of alcohol based hand cleaners;
  • frequent cleanings of surfaces where the virus could live, such as phones, tabletops, computer keyboards, etc.; &
  • remaining home if feeling ill or exhibiting symptoms.
Viral outbreaks also hold workplace concerns, such as the possibility of state office buildings, schools and colleges being closed in a pandemic. While hospitals and emergency health clinics would likely remain open, healthcare professionals may need to be quarantined if exposed.
“I’m worried about what happens to health professionals infected by their patients with the virus,” said Martha Marx, RN, a registered nurse with the Visiting Nurses Association of Southeastern Connecticut (VNASC). “What if suddenly half our staff are out because they’re sick? Do we have enough protective equipment to prevent that from happening?” asked Marx, who also serves as the vice president of our affiliated VNASC union.
Click here for press coverage with our national union president’s comments on the crisis.
State federation leaders remain committed to monitoring this developing situation and coordinating with public officials, labor allies and health advocates to share timely, actionable information. Members with questions, concerns or who need assistance are reminded that they are not alone and can rely on their union for help during this crisis.
Click here to send e-mail regarding workplace-related coronavirus issues to Vice President Brady.

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