1 year ago today, DOH issued COVID guidance to businesses: Look back shows how much we’ve learned

The advice and recommendations — compared with what we now know — are stunning. And they show the extent of just how little health officials knew a year ago about what would come to be called COVID-19.

On March 2, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Health released guidelines for businesses, saying there was no need to cancel meetings, wear a mask or even institute special cleaning. At the time, the state did not have a confirmed case of what was called the coronavirus.

What a month March would be.

To be clear, this story is in no way casting aspersions on the DOH, which has done a wonderful job educating New Jersey residents and business owners throughout the pandemic. It only goes to show how little we knew of COVID-19 a year ago today.

As we know, March brought an explosion of knowledge and cases.

The first known case in New Jersey came two days later, on March 4. Of course, then it was called a presumptive case due to the long lag time it took the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to process tests.

The state passed 1,000 cases Saturday, March 21, when Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all nonessential businesses to close and for all employees who could to work from home.

Remember, some thought that was extreme at the time. But, a week later, March 28, the state surpassed 10,000 cases. By March 31, it had 18,696 cases.

Most amazing of all may be this: These stats are from just a year ago.

Click here to read the state’s four-page guide.

Here are a few snapshots from it:

  • Though the CDC considers COVID-19 to be a serious public health concern based on current information, the immediate health risk to the general U.S. public is considered low at this time.
  • The type of coronavirus that has recently emerged in Wuhan, China, is a new type of coronavirus and is infecting people for the first time (which means that people do not have any immunity to it). This newly discovered virus is called SARS-CoV-2 and is causing a disease named COVID-19.
  • At this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people. Typically, with most respiratory viruses, people are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).
  • At this time, there is no need to cancel business or social events. There are no cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey, and there are no restrictions on public gatherings.
  • There is little need for the general public to wear face masks in the U.S. currently, as the threat level is low. But, for people who are in close contact with an infected person, a mask may be helpful if used properly. They are not 100% effective, as the virus can enter through the sides of the mask or enter the body through the eyes. The CDC does not currently recommend the use of face masks among the general public.

As for the cleaning of offices, the DOH offered this:

  • Special sanitizing processes beyond routine cleaning is not necessary or recommended to slow the spread of respiratory illness.
  • Businesses should follow standard procedures for routine cleaning and disinfecting with an EPA-registered product. Typically, this means daily sanitizing surfaces and objects that are frequently touched.
  • Disposable wipes should be provided so that commonly used surfaces, e.g., doorknobs, keyboards, desks, etc., can be wiped down by employees before each use.