On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The virus continues to spread worldwide, with close to 120,000 cases and 4,000 deaths across more than 110 countries and territories reported to date. The situation in the US, Europe, and elsewhere continues to escalate, and several countries are taking actions to stem the spread of the disease and manage its effects.
During a special Marsh webcast, held minutes before the outbreak was declared a pandemic, panelists stressed that a change in mindset is essential for businesses. “Businesses need to shift to a response mode,” said James Crask, Global Resilience Advisory Lead within Marsh Risk Consulting. This includes considering worst-case scenarios and planning their response to varying circumstances.
And while containment is still possible, mitigation strategies are increasingly important.
“At the core of mitigation is social distancing,” noted Dr. Lorna Friedman, Global Health Leader within Mercer’s Multinational Client Group. An increasing number of employees are working from home as employers take steps to limit the virus’s spread. Dr. Friedman also highlighted the importance of telemedicine, and encouraged employers to make sure the option is available to employees — and that employees are aware.
Daniel Kaniewski, managing director within Marsh & McLennan’s Public Sector Innovation group, and a former Bush and Trump administration official, noted that governments may take aggressive actions to protect their citizens. However, he noted, direct government assistance for US businesses is not likely to be available anytime soon.
The webcast dedicated most of its time to answering audience questions.
Dennis Tierney, director of claims in Marsh’s Workers’ Compensation Center of Excellence, looked at the different ways workers’ compensation policies can respond. He emphasized that compensability generally requires that an illness be “occupational,” meaning that it needs to arise out of the course and scope of employment, be proven that it resulted due to a workforce exposure, and be “peculiar” to an employee’s work. He stressed that compensability will be determined by the facts established during a claims investigation, as well as by the jurisdiction’s governing body.
Tim Smith, Marsh’s global trade credit leader, noted that insurers are reviewing their current exposures amidst the potential of bankruptcies stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Losses are expected to increase in the current weeks and months.
Steve Fraser, US Casualty Claims Leader for Marsh, said litigation is likely inevitable in a number of scenarios.
Also speaking was Dr. Daniel Slaim, regional medical director for the Americas at International SOS, which helps businesses protect employees from global health and security threats. He said that if employees must travel during the pandemic, it’s important for businesses to select appropriate candidates and for those employees to ensure proper hygiene, like regular handwashing, and maintain social distancing.
Kelly Thoerig, Marsh’s US employment practices liability coverage leader, spoke about the liability risks that could stem from employers’ actions.
Paul McVey, Marsh’s US Property Claims leader addressed questions regarding the insurability of coronavirus-related losses.
Finally, employers were urged to plan for scenarios in which employees need to work from home, whether due to illness, quarantine, or to care of children in the event of school closures. “Your employees are your most important assets; think about what you can do to support them,” said Renata Elias, a vice president in the Strategic Risk Consulting Practice within Marsh’s Risk Consulting.