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Q&A: Coronavirus Exposure in the Clinic

Debbie Boone, CCS, CVPM, 2 Manage Vets Consulting, Gibsonville, North Carolina

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Published Friday, April 3, 2020, at 4:55 PM CST

What happens if a team member gets sick and exposes the rest of the clinic staff? Is the clinic required to close? For how long?

If a staff member gets sick, the clinic is not required to close unless the entire team has been exposed. While some large corporations are choosing to evaluate exposure on a case-by-case basis, depending on where the sick person was in the building and who they interacted with, most veterinary clinics are small companies with fewer than 50 staff members. If a single veterinary team member gets sick, it is highly likely that the entire staff has been exposed. In that situation, the entire staff would need to self-isolate at home, necessitating the closure of the clinic.

However, there are options to mitigate the risk for practice-wide quarantine and closure.

Clinics can divide their staff into 2-3 shifts. Each group works exclusively with their own shift—if 1 team member gets sick, only that group needs to isolate, rather than the entire clinic team. Extremely thorough sanitization should be undertaken between each shift.

If a staff member tests positive, the local department of health should be informed and consulted.  

Resource: OSHA Guidance for Workplace Health

Is it feasible to group teams to limit exposure within the practice?

Grouping staff by shifts as described above may work better in larger clinics, but smaller clinics may try to isolate teams within the practice, if possible. For example, customer service representatives may be able to isolate at the front desk, while surgeons can remain in the OR and recovery.

If isolating team members to specific areas or grouping staff by shifts is not possible, encourage proper social distancing as much as possible, offer curbside check-in, limit use of common equipment, and thoroughly sanitize all surfaces between each use.

What happens if a staff member is exposed outside of the practice? How should that be handled?

Immediately contact your local health department for testing guidelines. The exposed staff member should self-quarantine immediately to avoid exposing the rest of the clinic staff and clients.

The exposed staff member should follow these guidelines from the CDC for home quarantine.

The rest of the staff should monitor their health and continue to follow current safety guidelines.

Resource: CDC Guidance for Businesses & Employers 

Can a practice require team members to come to work if there has been an exposure risk?

Legally, an employer cannot require an employee to come to work in a place that can potentially expose them to danger. According to employment lawyer Dan Klingenberger, “If there has been evidence of spread in the workplace, for example, someone has it, an employer could not force the other employees to come to work in that environment, as there is a direct threat of contamination. But with no evidence of exposure, or the exposure does not impact all employees, then, the employer can insist that people come to work.”

Can we lock the doors to prevent clients from entering the clinic?

Yes, but you must have an escape route in case of a fire or other hazard requiring immediate evacuation. All doors with lighted exit signs must remain unlocked during business hours.1 These doors may be locked from the outside, but unlocked from the inside, if possible. If there is any change to your fire evacuation plan, you must go over changes with all staff.

If any entrances to the clinic that are normally open for client use will be locked or closed, let clients know ahead of time. Any changes to clinic accessibility can be announced to clients through an email blast, social media, or other outlets. Do not wait until clients arrive for an appointment to explain changes to normal clinic entry.

References

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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