“Some of the information and recommendations in this blog are now out of date. Please refer to the links at the end of this item for more current information, or feel free to call APEI if you have questions about our practices or recommendations”.
APEI has received a number of questions from our members and brokers about the coronavirus, and how members should respond to the risk exposure to employees, students, and others. We’ve also been asked how the APEI insurance coverage applies to this disease.
Coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it is more formally known, is a viral disease, with symptoms and methods of contagion that are much like the flu. The Covid-19 is a new strain of the Coronavirus that was first identified in China in December 2019 and has since spread to a number of other countries around the world (including the US). As of March 5, 2020, there have been no identified cases of Coronavirus in Alaska, but experts believe that it is just a matter of time before we start seeing it here. At this point, Coronavirus appears to be more dangerous with higher death rates than the flu, but the available information about the disease seems to change almost daily. It appears to be transmitted in a way that is similar to the flu or the common cold. There is no vaccine for it, and one is not expected to be available for at least a year.
You can find current information on the Coronavirus at the CDC website, at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
We’ve had a number of questions from members and brokers as to how APEI insurance coverage will respond to exposures to coronavirus.
For workers’ compensation purposes, coronavirus will be treated as any other communicable disease. If a physician determines that an employee’s exposure to the disease was work-related, it would be covered under workers compensation, which would pay for testing, treatment, wage loss, etc the way it does for other WC claims. This scenario seems most probable for first responders, who may come in contact with bodily fluids or otherwise become exposed while providing care to a person who is later determined to be a carrier of the coronavirus.
This virus is likely to be generally present in our communities in the near future, and it will soon be impossible to demonstrate that an employee contracted the disease as a result of their employment. In that case, it would not be covered by workers’ compensation, but should be covered by health insurance just like the flu or similar diseases.
APEI’s general liability coverage covers most situations in which a member is found to be “legally obligated to pay as damages by reason of liability imposed by law or liability assumed by contract”. This includes legal liability for personal injury by disease. But, the “legal liability” standard is high – the fact that someone acquires the disease is not enough. They would need to demonstrate that this acquisition was due to the member’s negligence, which would be challenging for a disease as communicable as this one.
Employers need to also be aware of the potential for employment practices liability should they take action that violates any federal or state discrimination laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from excluding individuals with disabilities from the workplace for health or safety reasons unless they pose a “direct threat” (i.e. a significant risk of substantial harm even with reasonable accommodation). Additionally, the ADA requires reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities (absent undue hardship) during a pandemic. Employers should avoid any actions that may single out particular groups and which could be perceived as discriminatory. For guidance regarding the ADA and preventing discrimination as it related to Covid-19, visit the EEOC’s Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace guide: https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/pandemic_flu.html
We have been asked if our members should adopt policies prohibiting out-of-state or international travel for businesses or educational reasons. That’s a decision that will need to be made by the member, after considering the potential risks of the travel compared to the intended benefit of the travel. Members may decide to prohibit travel to certain areas, while permitting it for others.
At this point, the most valuable thing that APEI members can do involves helping to support their employees and community members in remaining healthy:
- Encourage employees and students to stay home from work or school if they have any symptoms (even if it looks like a cold)
- Assure that first responders and medical personnel have the appropriate personal protective equipment and training
- Make sure that organizational facilities are cleaned regularly
- Provide hand sanitizer at locations where members of the public interact with staff or students.
Again, available information on the Coronavirus is changing daily. The CDC website above should be a reliable source of information. Other sites with useful information include:
- OSHA https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/controlprevention.html
- Alaska Department of Health and Social Services http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/general.aspx
- Alaska department of Education: https://education.alaska.gov/safeschools/infectiousdisease