Coronavirus Preparedness: Stay Calm and Connected
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Coronavirus Preparedness: Stay Calm and Connected

How should Minnesota companies respond to the coronavirus outbreak?

Fears and concerns about the coronavirus have been going, well, viral. Folks are stockpiling necessities from Target and other big box stores. World leaders are avoiding handshakes. And many are making panicky calls to financial advisers.

We’ve all read articles on how to be prepared for a possible pandemic. But how should businesses respond? On Friday, crisis communications expert Matt Kucharski, president of Minneapolis-based PR firm Padilla, published a blog post offering some calm guidance. “What we wanted to do is provide some places for companies to start to think about and be ready for as this thing unfolds,” Kucharski said in an interview on Monday.

Kucharski noted that for many Minnesota companies, COVID-19 is a crisis. Businesses with worldwide operations are obvious examples, as are the many firms that depend on global supply chains. But for others, it’s best described as “an issue”—something that might not affect them directly (at least not yet). Still, even these companies need to be prepared.

And in fact, a wide range of Twin Cities companies have established plans and protocols.

Last Friday, Minneapolis-based call center software firm Calabrio Inc. issued a new policy that it shared with all its employees. “We have five offices—in Singapore, Stockholm, Minneapolis, Vancouver, and Denver—and a couple of remote employees in China, and others around the world,” said Calabrio president and CEO Tom Goodmanson. The policy notes that “we’re tracking all jurisdictions that we’re working in,” and asking employees to “use their best judgment and follow local regulations.” Calabrio also is providing its employees with daily updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization.

On Tuesday, Mall of America issued a statement that it would start “intensifying” existing precautionary protocols for its employees. The additional guidelines entail “increased efforts with our guests, including adding more hand-sanitizing stations throughout the Mall, and providing visible educational messages about preventative actions,” the statement said.

At the end of January, New Brighton-based med-tech firm Cardiovascular Systems Inc. suspended all employee travel to Asia. Early last month, the company began sharing precautionary tips with its 800 workers. Jack Nielsen, the company’s vice president of investor relations and corporate communications, said on Tuesday that “this morning, we are expanding our precautionary measures.” The expanded measures restrict all international travel. In addition, visitors to the company’s facilities in Minnesota and Texas who’ve traveled to risk areas defined by the CDC will not be permitted on site.

With all the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 and its spread, it’s impossible to anticipate the business disruptions the virus may wreak. “At a minimum, understand what’s going on out there and make sure your basic continuity plan is in place,” Kucharski said. Another tip: Find a balance between overreacting and underreacting. “You don’t want to instill fear in people,” he noted. “But you also don’t want to be lackadaisical.”