DRAPER — As the state health officials laid out their plan for a potential outbreak of coronavirus, one local company was already working to get ahead of the disease, in part, by sending their employees home early with some cash.
One of the keys to reducing the size of a potential outbreak may be coronavirus preparation.
“If this does impact Onset, if it does impact the Utah area, we’re ready to go,” said Debbie Worthen, who leads the marketing team at Onset Financial in Draper. “Our employees’ safety and making sure they’re okay is our first priority always.”
Worthen said CEO Justin Nielsen first brought up COVID-19 at work a month ago and has been monitoring the spread since.
On Thursday he gathered all of his employees together and laid out the company’s plan for a potential outbreak of the virus.
“We have an obligation as an organization to prepare,” Nielsen told the group.
They haven’t been alone in that preparation. At around the same time his company was meeting, state health officials held a press conference, detailing how hospitals and the Utah Department of Health have prepared for possible impact.
“The risk for disease for people living in Utah still is low,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, a state epidemiologist at the Health Department. “There is potential for significant disruption to our daily lives in the near future.”
— KSL 5 TV (@KSL5TV) February 28, 2020
It’s that possible disruption that ultimately lead Nielsen to tell his employees, “when you leave today, you’re going to get an envelope that has $250 cash.”
He made them commit to go to the store and only use that cash to buy things like soap, nonperishable food items, water and medicine.
“That was a great feeling,” said Levi Allred, a graphic designer at Onset. “It didn’t cause me to go into a panic or anything, but just hearing him talk about it made me take it a little more seriously.”
“The last thing we want is for the panic to hit and, while our employees are helping us grow our business, the shelves at the grocery stores are empty,” Worthen said.
Onset’s preparation list and empty chairs Thursday were only part of the preparation.
“We have laptops ready to go. We have the server ready to go if employees need to work from home,” Worthen said.
She said if an employee is exposed to the virus and on quarantine, they won’t have to use sick leave to stay at home.
“We know it’s coming, so let’s get ready,” Worthen said. “If it doesn’t hit us, great.”
On a statewide level, Dr. Dunn said, “There are certain things that we want the public to be prepared for and aware of the interventions that public health will start implementing.”
She said there are individual things the public can do to slow the spread of the disease, should it arrive in the Beehive State.
“Those are things like staying home when you’re sick and washing your hands regularly,” said Dr. Dunn.
If necessary, the health department could work with community leaders to close schools, cancel church services and other mass gatherings.