Coronavirus FAQ: Background, Prevention, Monitoring and Coverage
Governments are reporting a growing number of cases of Coronavirus/COVID-19 in countries around the world. As a result, communities, organizations and individuals are preparing for what could be a serious global outbreak. We have been receiving many questions about this virus, and have compiled the following FAQ to help you understand the implications for your organization in terms of both prevention, mitigation and insurance coverage. Please reach out to us if there is any way we can help you prepare, or if you have questions about your insurance coverage.
What is Coronavirus/COVID-19?
There are many coronaviruses circulating in the human population, most of which are relatively harmless and cause mild illnesses such as the common cold. The recent outbreak is related to a novel coronavirus—one not previously seen in the human population—and which is causing a disease known as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
How infectious is it?
When looking at virus epidemics, it is important to distinguish between the severity of a virus-caused illness—meaning how deadly or debilitating the illness itself is—and how contagious it is—meaning how easily it spreads from one infected person to another. According to James Hamblin MD, a lecturer at Yale School of Public Health and expert in communicable diseases, the reason that COVID-19 is likely to prove so difficult to contain is that it is highly infectious, and yet sometimes shows no symptoms at all. In other words, it can be dangerous to certain patients—especially the elderly or those with underlying health issues—but can also be transmitted from person-to-person without being detected.
How serious is the threat?
It is extremely hard to accurately assess fatality rates because we can only compare deaths to the number of identified cases—whereas the real number of infected cases may be far higher. So far, several thousand people have died from COVID-19 worldwide—far fewer than flu-related deaths in the United States.
Current news reports suggest a mortality rate of around 2% of cases in China—but this is in relation to identified cases, and would not include those who did not experience symptoms or have not sought hospital treatment. The vast majority of deaths have been among the elderly or those with co-morbidities such as chronic illness.
Early reports suggest that very few children are showing signs of severe illness, although it is currently unclear whether that means they are not being infected, or whether they are not experiencing severe symptoms.
How can the general population prepare?
Experts advise that aggressive hygiene and distancing measures will be necessary in order to ‘flatten the curve’ of infection and protect the most vulnerable. That includes:
- Social distancing—including working from home wherever possible, limiting socializing and large gatherings and following all official guidance on shutdowns or shelter-in-place measures from local, state and federal government.
- If you are continuing to operate in any capacity, re-enforce policies that ask co-workers and volunteers to remain at home if they are showing any signs of illness.
- Promotion of constant and thorough hand washing-at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
- Promotion of good hygiene practices such as sneezing or coughing into your elbow, or using a tissue (and then disposing of that tissue immediately). It is also recommended to not touch your face as much as possible.
- Increase availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, where hand washing is not practical.
- Wash and disinfect surfaces regularly, especially high-traffic areas such as bathrooms.
- Consider avoiding handshakes or prolonged physical contact.
Are organizations covered in the event of a COVID-19 infection?
There are currently many unknown scenarios of how and where COVID-19 could create a loss at your organization: potentially a Business Income loss, General Liability loss or Workers’ Compensation loss. In the event of any loss or disruption to your operation, we will thoroughly assess coverage and determine if payment applies. With so many scenarios, we cannot definitively state where coverage does and does not apply.
The main provision under which coverage may apply is under the Food Contamination and Communicable Disease Endorsement of our Property coverage form. However, just as would likely be the case with norovirus, it is likely that this coverage will only apply if an organization is forced to close by a governmental agency because the transmission of coronavirus is determined to have occurred exclusively on their premises or very close nearby.
Workers’ Compensation appears to be somewhat of a gray area, but typically ‘Ordinary Diseases of Life’—meaning illnesses the general public are exposed to outside the scope of employment—would not be covered.
However, all cases will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if and where coverage applies. Insureds and their brokers are encouraged to contact us to discuss their specific coverage.
How can organizations stay up-to-date as the situation changes?
In any fast-moving crisis, there is a lot of contradictory and/or sensationalist information being shared. It is important for organizations to monitor credible sources of news and guidance, and to communicate this information with their teams in a responsible manner. Currently we recommend the following sources for the most up-to-date information on the outbreak: