A number of my customers have been asking if I have a response plan to a pandemic flu. While I’d been following the avian flu scare that has been circulating the globe, I had to admit that I hadn’t developed a specific “Pandemic Flu Response Policy.”
My first step in developing such a plan was to do a little research on the Internet. I started by visiting PandemicFlu.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and found the following material.
A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population.
This virus begins to cause serious illness and then spreads easily, person to person, worldwide. Historically, the 20th century saw three pandemics of influenza:
• A 1918 influenza pandemic caused at least 675,000 U.S. deaths and up to 50 million deaths worldwide.
• A 1957 influenza pandemic caused at least 70,000 U.S. deaths and 1-2 million deaths worldwide.
• A 1968 influenza pandemic caused about 34,000 U.S. deaths and 700,000 deaths worldwide.
We must consider these factors when dealing with a pandemic:
1. There will be rapid worldwide spread of the influenza.
Preparedness plans should assume that the entire world population would be at risk. Countries might attempt to delay the virus by closing borders and imposing travel restrictions, but they cannot stop it.
2. Existing healthcare systems will be overloaded.
Most people will have little or no immunity to a pandemic virus. Infection and illness rates will soar. A substantial percentage of the world’s population will require some form of medical care.
Nations are unlikely to have the staff, facilities, equipment and hospital beds needed to cope with large numbers of people who suddenly fall ill.
Death rates are likely to be high. Past pandemics have spread globally in two, sometimes three, waves.
3. Medical supplies will be inadequate to cope with the sudden need.
4. There will be substantial economic and social disruption.
This will be caused by travel bans, closing of schools and businesses, and cancellation of events. Care for sick family members and fear of exposure can result in significant worker absenteeism.
To define the problem specifically for the laundry industry, in the event of a flu pandemic, there will be a sudden overloading of existing healthcare facilities, the demand for clean linen will peak in the healthcare market, and the hospitality market will see a sudden and dramatic decrease in demand.
A large portion of your employees and the general population in your area will be sick. Traditional emergency backup plans will be of no use in the event of a pandemic, because every laundry will be scrambling to get its own work done and won’t have the time or labor to do extra work.
There’s likely to be a disruption in the distribution system, as travel is restricted and truckers call in sick as a result of the pandemic. Public utility repair crews will find it difficult to maintain aging electric and water systems because of the lack of available labor. Those able-bodied workers who are willing to work will have endless opportunities to work at inflated wages.
Is there any wonder why my healthcare customers are asking what plans I have in place in the event of a pandemic flu?