Risk and compliance officers may have seen word that the Trump Administration has shelved pending guidance from the Centers for Disease Control about how to re-open business operations amid Covid-19 — but fear not! The guidance leaked anyway, so you can read and consider the advice at your leisure.

The document, 17 pages long, is a list of recommendations for child care centers, schools, restaurants, churches, and mass transit systems, plus additional advice for any employer with vulnerable workers. 

Don’t let the target industries fool you, however. The guidance is a cornucopia of specific practices that compliance professionals from any business can deconstruct and then refashion for your own organization as warranted. It’s also structured in a way that demonstrates how compliance officers should think through re-opening practices in a logical, disciplined manner. 

First, the recommendations for each industry are grouped into three phases: 

  • Phase 1, our current state of keeping non-essential business closed;
  • Phase 2, where businesses can re-open with “enhanced” social distancing; 
  • Phase 3, where businesses resume operations with “standard” social distancing. 

Every business, large or small, will proceed through those three phases at some point. Many of you might even have different parts of the enterprise exist in different phases simultaneously, especially if you have global operations working under different nations’ reopening regimes. Conceptually, however, these three phases are the road your business will travel.

The recommendations are also then grouped according to four categories:

  • Opening: what businesses should put in place before they open
  • Safe actions: policies and procedures for cleaning, keeping employees or customers apart, or organizing office layout for social distancing
  • Monitoring and preparing: how and when to perform health checks, recommended sick leave policies, and designating a manager to handle Covid-19 questions
  • Closing: when and how to close again if infection levels rise.

If all this sounds intricate, that’s because the guidance is. Much of it won’t be directly applicable to most compliance officers, unless you work in one of the five targeted industries. But most will still be indirectly applicable, as a good idea you could modify for your own workforce and operations. 

In that sense, this CDC guidance is similar to what the agency offered to Smithfield Foods last month. That was another document released to the public that offered a long list of ideas compliance officers can try at home, modifying the recommendations as you see fit. 

CDC and Trump Palace Intrigue

We still have the question of why President Trump and his droids decided to pull this CDC guidance, which was supposed to be released last week. 

One rumor is that they decided the guidance was too prescriptive. Yes, the word “prescriptive” certainly fits here, but this is only guidance — no business would be required to implement any of it. Even the CDC’s recommendations to Smithfield weren’t binding, and Smithfield had employees getting sick by the hundreds. So I have a hard time believing this.

The New York Times reports that Trump didn’t want to publish guidance that would burden churches or businesses in rural areas. That makes more sense, given Trump’s eagerness to placate his political base. 

Or maybe Trump just doesn’t want to publish guidance that’s clear and specific, because that requires leadership and accountability. So better to stick with that re-opening fluff the Administration released last month, which basically left state and local health authorities to figure out their own solutions. 

Whatever. The good news for risk and compliance professionals is simply that the CDC material is out there. It’s raw material that can help with your risk assessments, policy and procedure, and monitoring as we all try to resume some semblance of normal operations during Covid-19. The more material we can get, the better.

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