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CDC Confirms First Case of Wuhan Coronavirus in the United States: What Employers Need to Know

Employers with employees traveling to and from China may want to take note of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) announcement on January 21, 2020, that the United States had confirmed its first case of a new strain of the coronavirus that appeared in Wuhan, China, last month. The virus has already sickened hundreds of people and is reported to have killed nine, according to Chinese authorities.

The U.S. patient is a male residing near Seattle, in Snohomish County, Washington, who recently returned from a trip to Wuhan.

The CDC is currently screening passengers arriving from Wuhan to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Los Angeles International Airport, and San Francisco International Airport. It will start screening passengers flying directly from Wuhan to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The CDC also issued an advisory as “Alert-Level 2,” which advises travelers to “practice enhanced precautions.”

According to the CDC, human coronaviruses commonly cause mild to moderate illness in people. Two of the newer coronaviruses, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, have been known to cause severe illness. The CDC is currently monitoring the 2019-nCoV (the newly discovered virus originating in Wuhan) and is providing updates and guidance to state and local health departments and healthcare providers. One of the reasons for concern is that Chinese health officials have said the virus can spread by human-to-human contact. Nevertheless, at this stage, the CDC’s risk assessment states that “the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time.”

Information is rapidly evolving. Cases have also been reported in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, as well as in Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea. However, only one case has been reported in the United States as of this writing, which was related to travel to China.

Prudent employers may want to monitor the CDC as its investigation and assessment progresses. While there is likely a low risk to U.S. workers, employers may want to consider educating employees traveling to China and other impacted regions as to the symptoms of the virus and be prepared to discuss any need for accommodation, such as excepting employees with pertinent health conditions or vulnerability from travel to affected areas upon request.

The CDC advises people who believe they may have been exposed to or infected with the virus to contact health authorities and seek immediate medical care. Employers may also wish to direct employees with questions or concerns to the CDC website for the latest information.

© 2020, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 22


About this Author

Katherine Dudley Helms, Ogletree Deakins Law Firm, Health and Employment Attorney
Office Managing Shareholder

Ms. Helms has extensive experience representing clients in employment matters as varied as the practice offers.  She has represented companies and individuals in both the private and public sectors ranging from production line supervisors to company executives.  Having represented clients in forums from mediation to the United State Supreme Court allows Ms. Helms the perspective and knowledge to work closely with her clients to offer creative solutions to age old problems.  Ms. Helms frequently guides clients to take what is learned through administrative complaints and/...

Michael Oliver Eckard Employment Attorney Ogletree Deakins

Michael Oliver Eckard is a shareholder in the Charleston and Atlanta offices and has been an employment lawyer at Ogletree his entire legal career. Michael represents companies in labor, employment, restrictive covenant, and wage and hour matters in the health care, manufacturing, chemicals, hospitality, transportation and logistics, and retail industries, among others. He regularly advises companies on human resources and labor policy issues. Michael represents his clients in many types of employment litigation matters, including wrongful termination claims, sexual harassment claims, employment discrimination claims, employment contracts, wage and hour claims, trade secrets, and non-compete agreements. He also represents management in union organizing campaigns, collective bargaining negotiations, arbitrations, and unfair labor practice and representation proceedings.

Michael’s nationwide litigation and advice practice focuses on protecting corporate clients against claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation; claims involving restrictive covenants, unfair competition, and trade secret claims; federal and state wage and hour laws; and claims of defamation, breach of contract, and intentional torts. He has litigated labor and employment-related matters in federal and state courts throughout the United States, including appeals before the Georgia Court of Appeals, Georgia Supreme Court, and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. His litigation matters include single-plaintiff, multiple-plaintiff, and collective action cases, as well as labor and employment arbitrations and administrative proceedings.

Michael serves as a trusted advisor to his clients, regularly providing counsel to corporate executive, legal, and human resources leaders on matters such as risk management; labor relations; workforce planning (including workforce growth and reductions in force); labor and employment matters pertaining to corporate mergers, divestitures, and other transactions; employee recruiting and hiring practices; employee discipline and termination; wage and hour law compliance; and strategies for preventing and investigating harassment and discrimination claims.

Prior to his legal career, Michael served in the U.S. Army, specializing in Military Intelligence. Michael served in multiple duty stations, including operational tours in Kuwait. Michael is also a licensed pilot and enjoys flying airplanes for recreation.

Michael is a former law clerk for the U.S. Department of Justice – Civil Division, Washington D.C. Michael is also the 2005 recipient of the University of South Carolina Law School’s coveted Knox L. Haynsworth Labor Law Scholarship Award.