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Pandemic warnings could trigger closings
CDC, OSHA set categories for flu planning
Even a mild pandemic could result in school closings, cancellation of public gatherings, voluntary quarantines, and absenteeism of employees who must leave work to care for children or elderly relatives, according to interim guidance on community mitigation released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A new Pandemic Severity Index, modeled after the hurricane warning system but using a case fatality ratio as its measure, will be used to designate what interventions are needed. A Category 5 pandemic would be similar to the devastating 1918 pandemic, with a projection of more than 1.8 million deaths.
Categories 2 and 3, the mildest pandemics, could trigger school closings and other interventions, based on the characteristics of a pandemic within a specific community, the guidance says. (Category 1 would be similar to a more severe form of seasonal influenza with fewer than 90,000 deaths.)
Meanwhile, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set risk categories for workers and told health care workers what they already know: They are at the highest risk for occupational exposure.
Cross-train 3 for each position
Employers should plan now to have respiratory protection for those high-risk workers and should cross-train at least three people for each essential position to maintain services during a pandemic, says Amanda Edens, deputy director of OSHA's directorate of standards and guidance.
"Employers may experience employee absences as well as interruptions in supplies," Edens says. "We recognize that a severe pandemic in our country could have a devastating effect on our nation's work force."
OSHA's guidance mirrors that of CDC, but gears its information to employers with information on administrative, engineering, and work practice controls that can help protect workers. "We recognize that a severe pandemic in our country could have a devastating effect on our nation's work force," OSHA administrator Edwin J. Foulke Jr. said in a press conference.
While school closings, "social distancing," voluntary quarantines and other "nonpharmaceutical interventions" may be disruptive, they can slow a pandemic and lower the peak number of cases, said CDC director Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH. "This is an important goal because it will help save lives and it will also decompress the burden a pandemic places on our hospitals," she said.