Practical considerations: Preparing for a Resurgence of COVID-19 in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin economy continues to show encouraging signs of recovery, but COVID-19 will remain a threat to public health and economic prosperity until a vaccine is available in mass quantities. Businesses should expect periodic, localized infection spikes in the coming months, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning of a broader infection wave later this year. This second wave could be more robust and sustained than the initial wave as it is projected to coincide with flu season.

What steps can business leaders take now to prepare their companies for another wave of COVID-19 infections? Below is a checklist of items that corporate leaders can address to minimize disruption and protect employees, customers and other stakeholders.

Personal Protective & Related Equipment
  1. Acquire a supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and hygiene products as appropriate to the workplace, and provide ongoing education and training regarding their use.
  2. Identify and develop supply chain partners to ensure adequate access to masks and protective coverings, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfecting wipes.
  3. Visit MMAC PPE Marketplace or WEDC’s Wisconsin Supplier Network to source PPE materials.

Remote Working Capabilities

Develop or enhance remote working capabilities and policies. These capabilities provided a lifeline for many businesses, allowing them to quickly switch staff to remote working situations without jeopardizing productivity. Companies should continue to evaluate software, hardware and telecommunications enhancements that enable employees to work more effectively (and in greater numbers) from home.

Supply Chain Risk

Evaluate supply chain risk based on the likelihood of further disruption. COVID-19 exposed supply chain and logistics vulnerabilities (some of which were present before COVID-19) for companies worldwide, especially those that rely on single source providers or suppliers concentrated in specific geographic areas. The Economist’s Intelligence Unit issued a high-level white paper that starts companies along the path to understanding and addressing supply chain risk.

COVID-19 Response Team
  • Form a multifunctional company response team charged with creating, communicating and implementing a company response plan. Many businesses were caught off-guard by the initial appearance of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and the subsequent government action to squelch it. Companies now have time to formulate a response plan to prepare for another wave. The company response team should be charged with assessing risk-levels at least once per week, monitoring federal, state and local guidance, and formulating contingency plans.
  • Employers may also wish to develop a COVID-19 communications plan to regularly update employees. Consider whether a weekly or bi-weekly update is appropriate to inform employees of policy or procedural changes (and issue reminders regarding physical distancing/hygiene policies).

COVID-19 Awareness Education & Training for Employees

Understand that the disease can most effectively be brought under control by collective, sustained action. The current wave of COVID-19 infection may be abating, but the disease is still present in Wisconsin and capable of spreading quickly. Workplaces should continue to encourage social distancing, hygiene and sanitization practices that prevent disease spread. Employers can also help workers to understand the signs of COVID-19 infection by posting signs like this one developed by the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) – Feeling Sick.

Mental Health

Acknowledge that COVID-19 is having a significant impact on mental health, which will be exacerbated if the disease returns later this year. Wisconsinites are concerned with their own health and job security, while also dealing with the virus’ impact on family, friends and the broader community. Relationships and normal patterns of civic life have been severely disrupted. These burdens accompany employees into the workplace. Many employers are responding by broadly communicating the availability of Employee Assistance Programs to help workers afflicted with mental health conditions. MCW has developed primers to help companies support employees dealing with grief and finding mechanisms for coping with the effects of COVID-19.

Legal Compliance

Recognize that COVID-19 has created myriad legal requirements and exposures for companies. Management should review existing policies and postings – and consider consulting with legal counsel – to ensure compliance with recently implemented federal and state COVID-19 legislation, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and other state paid and unpaid leave laws. A COVID-19 surge will shine a bright light on these compliance requirements.

Discomfort Reporting to the Workplace

Develop plans and procedures to address employee attitudes likely to be prevalent if the virus returns, including hesitancy to work on-premises. Certainly dialogue between management and employee is the first response, but companies may also want to establish accommodation and leave policies, including appropriate compliance with federal and state employment requirements.

Operational Planning to Account for Absenteeism

Identify essential functions and cross-train employees to ensure necessary staffing if absenteeism spikes. COVID-19 exposed operating risks for companies, including overreliance on some personnel to perform critical functions. This presents an operational threat and puts added pressure on individuals tasked with performing these functions.

Boost Employee Morale

Seek ways to connect with employees and demonstrate that management sympathizes with the pressures and difficulties presented by the pandemic. These efforts will be especially appreciated if the virus returns. Cost-effective ideas include:

  • Casual attire days
  • Company-provided meals (at appropriate social distance)
  • Individual messages of gratitude
  • Flexible work rules

Thanks to the Medical College of Wisconsin and Quarles & Brady
for assistance in preparing this checklist.