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CDC encourages companies to prepare for coronavirus

Every workplace should have a plan, according to health experts.

MINNEAPOLIS — Companies across the United States should begin implementing plans to deal with the potential spread of coronavirus, according to a guidance document from the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC offered a number of suggestions, including but not limited to: encourage sick employees not to come into work, perform environmental cleaning and monitor employee travel practices.

"The severity of illness or how many people will fall ill from COVID-19 is unknown at this time. If there is evidence of a COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., employers should plan to be able to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity," the CDC said, "and be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed."

Wayzata-based Cargill, which operates in more than 70 countries, just announced Thursday that it has temporarily banned nonessential international travel.

"It's really a proactive step to make sure we don't put our people or any of our stakeholders around the world in harm's way," said Allan Johnson, the company's vice president of environment, health and safety.

Cargill also has local crisis action teams in place and continues to monitor supply chains across the globe. In Asia, workers are now telecommuting extensively, and American workers (including those in Minnesota) could do so if needed. Telecommuting and working from home is not uncommon even in normal circumstances.

"We're well-prepared to handle that if we go to it on a larger scale," Johnson said.

Coronavirus could impact large gatherings and conferences, too. Facebook, for instance, just announced the cancellation of the F8 tech conference in San Jose scheduled for May. Although the tech industry is inherently able to telecommute, workers in healthcare, the airline industry, waste management and border protection could see enhanced risks, according to OSHA. 

Paul DeBettignies of Minnesota Headhunter, LLC, who consults closely with companies on hiring and retention practices, said most companies are "trying to figure out where to start" right now when it comes to coronavirus. 

"We all hope that this is going to turn into nothing, that it's just going to be nothing more than the normal flu. That's the hope. But companies definitely need to prepare for the what-if," DeBettignies said. "I would suggest that if a company has not yet found a contingency plan, then they're behind. Not out of fear, but, they need to be doing this right now."

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