Organizations Worldwide Rally to Address Coronavirus Outbreak
Editor's note: This article was updated and amended on March 4 to reflect changing circumstances since the print version went to press in early February. Information about the novel coronavirus outbreak is rapidly developing. For up-to-date information from the World Health Organization, visit WHO's website. Updated guidance from CDC is available online. AIHA's Coronavirus Outbreak Resource Center includes links to relevant resources from CDC, WHO, and other sources.

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern over the recent outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus. The new coronavirus, originally known as 2019-nCoV, was first detected in Wuhan City in China’s Hubei Province and continues to spread. In February, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses named the virus "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2," or SARS-CoV-2, due to its genetic relationship to the virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003. The official name for the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is COVID-19.

WHO’s Jan. 30 announcement marks the sixth time that the organization has declared such an emergency. The organization last declared a public health emergency of international concern in July 2019 over the Ebola virus disease outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.” CDC published interim infection prevention and control recommendations for healthcare settings in the United States based on the information available about the new coronavirus, including disease severity and transmission efficiency. The agency’s infection control procedures include administrative rules and engineering controls, environmental hygiene, correct work practices, and appropriate use of personal protective equipment. CDC’s recommendations address adherence to standard, contact, and airborne precautions, including the use of eye protection; how to monitor and manage ill and exposed healthcare personnel; and the training of healthcare personnel on the prevention of transmission of infectious agents and appropriate use of PPE. The agency’s most up-to-date guidance is available on its website.
CDC also published interim guidance for businesses and employers to help prevent workplace exposures to the new coronavirus and other acute respiratory illnesses outside of healthcare settings. The agency’s guidance includes recommendations such as actively encouraging sick employees to stay home, emphasizing respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by employees, and performing routine environmental cleaning. CDC also outlines strategies for employers to consider when creating an infectious disease outbreak response plan. Laurence Svirchev, CIH, MA, BSc, ambassador to China for AIHA's International Affairs Committee, has been working to find ways for AIHA members to donate equipment and assist Chinese healthcare workers and other emergency responders in protecting themselves as they care for patients infected by the new coronavirus. “The situation in China and internationally is rapidly changing and needs can change too,” Svirchev said. “Our roots are in public health—altruistic and humanitarian people like Alice Hamilton. If we think and act like she did, with innovation, we will help defeat this disease.”

In early March, Svirchev reported that concerns about the availability of PPE in China were alleviated and that donations were not required at this time. Donations can still be made to areas in need through 3M's humanitarian aid partner, Direct Relief. Resources that industrial hygienists may find useful during the coronavirus outbreak are collected on AIHA’s website, where the latest information on how AIHA members can help can also be found. More information about the new coronavirus is available on CDC’s website. OSHA has also published a safety and health topic page on the outbreak. For the latest information from WHO, visit the organization's website.
AIHA’s ambassador to China determined an effective means of sending barrier PPE to China and guaranteeing that it arrives directly in the hands of healthcare workers in extreme need.