Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause a range of illnesses from the common cold to severe diseases such as MERS and SARS and can lead to pneumonia and other serious complications in some patients. In December 2019, a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was identified in Wuhan, China, believed to have originated from a local food market. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a different strain than those that cause SARS or MERS, and information about this particular strain is evolving.
COVID-19 has spread to many countries, including the United States, and has reached pandemic stage according to the World Health Organization, which means sustained transmission of the disease in multiple places worldwide. While many people who contract the virus remain asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, older people, those with compromised immune systems, and those with underlying chronic conditions like heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes may have severe symptoms requiring clinical management, treatment of complications and hospitalization. Those with severe symptoms are at increased risk of death. Like the flu and other coronaviruses, it may return annually and may mutate, posing challenges for creating effective therapeutic treatments (antivirals) and vaccines in the future.
Position on COVID-19
The extent and impact of the outbreak will depend on how policymakers and government leaders react. Key policy areas for action will include:
- Providing the most up-to-date, evidence-based information to the public and health care providers on prevention, clinical management, and efforts to mitigate the spread and impact, which will also mitigate unwarranted fears;
- Coordination with local, state, national and international public health authorities and organizations as well as the private sector;
- Assuring adequate funding and support for testing, protection of front-line emergency health care responders and other health care workers, clinical management for those with severe symptoms and the capacity to deal with potential surges in health care demand;
- Addressing potential shortages in supplies, equipment, ICU beds and other medical needs through funding and regulatory changes;
- Funding and support for research and development of effective antiviral treatment and vaccines; and
- Taking actions to minimize financial dislocation and other hardships associated with COVID-19, including those affecting individuals’ employment, pay, leave and health benefits. In addition, permitting flexibility and minimizing administrative burdens for employers for programs to support affected employees and their families.
Why it Matters
- COVID-19 could impact the health, household finances, child-care arrangements, caregiver responsibilities, and other aspects of employees’ lives and their families.
- Companies could experience disruptions in business operations at home and abroad, supply-chain impacts, downgraded outlook for company finances, significant loss of market capitalization, lower productivity, higher health care utilization and spending, increased use of EAP and other support services, and other impacts.
- Government action is key to mitigating the impacts and assuring that the health system is adequately prepared to care for those affected now and to have the capacity to deal with potential surges in health needs.
- Government funding and research is essential to promoting the development of effective antiviral treatment and vaccines in the future.