Guidance and Considerations for Responding to COVID-19
By Micheon Balmer, TWCA Risk Management Fund
The TWCA Risk Management Fund recently distributed to all Risk Management Fund members a COVID-19 Best Practice Guide to assist districts in managing and responding to COVID-19 within their organization. The Best Practice Guide offers information on various topics including information technology, cyber security, hygiene and general precautions, working at home, and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The following is an excerpt from the Guide and provides general guidance and considerations for all water districts in managing and responding to COVID-19.
1. Establish A Team: Establish a team from different departments to assess your organization’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) needs and risks. Determine the team’s command and decision-making structure. Choose one person to be the spokesperson for the public entity.
2. Create A Communications and Contingency Plan: It’s important to agree internally about what will be communicated before any announcements are made to assure that messaging will be consistent across different audiences. Should an outbreak occur near your offices, what should happen first, second and third? Who is authorized to make prompt decisions? Who should be informed? By what communication methods? What messages should they hear? What are the protocols for providing updates?
3. Create A Human Resources Plan: Explore what the rules will be if your employees need to work from home. Regarding travel, see the World Health Organization’s (WHO) written travel guidelines for COVID-19. Will employees’ compensation continue as normal? What about non-salaried employees? What does your government require? Review telecommuting policies and accountability. Beware of bias, discrimination and exclusion at your organization, and always be protective of employee personal privacy and confidentiality as required by law. Follow up on reports of discrimination and respond to concerns.
4. Communicate With Your Staff: Communicate with your staff on a regular basis to prevent fear-based rumors. Prepare statements/intranet news and continue to educate the employees and regularly pass on information to them including what the district is doing to handle COVID-19.
5. Establish A Cleanliness Protocol: Do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threat) Analysis specifically related to COVID-19 or infectious disease. What protocols for cleanliness does your organization have or need? Is your custodial staff increasing its cleaning and disinfection of touch surfaces (restrooms, doorknobs, kitchen and dining areas)? Do they have the correct personal protective equipment?
They should avoid cleaning methods that might aerosolize pathogens (pressure washing, steam cleaning). What emergencies should you plan for?
6. Monitor The Center for Disease Control (CDC) Website For Updates: Develop a protocol system for monitoring daily, hourly and emergency information. Your organization should seek advice from scientific and medical officials with experience in epidemiology, such as those in the WHO, the U.S. CDC, or similar national government health organizations in other countries.
7. Communicate With Your Public: Maintaining their trust and confidence during a potential coronavirus-related disruption is critical (identify concerns, steps taken to protect public from exposure to the virus, provide resources, update frequently).
8. Prepare For Media Inquiries: It is recommended that organizations only discuss their policies relating to the outbreak, their advice to employees on staying healthy, and their plans to keep meeting customer/public needs.
9. Plan For The Future: Evaluate your practices and plan to sustain them in the event the virus grows stronger or comes back. Monitor the effectiveness of communication to different audiences. Immediately address fear and prejudice against different groups of people directly and with science-based facts.