COVID-19 and Non-Profits: What’s Next?

Every day we are faced with new and alarming information about the worldwide spread of COVID-19. The public health risk factor is still low in Canada, but the virus has now been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Mass gatherings can contribute to the transmission of respiratory pathogens. If you are a non-profit with major events on your fundraising calendar this spring, how do you decide whether to cancel or carry on?

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has issued guidelines and a risk assessment tool to help you make an informed decision.

“Mass gatherings are not homogenous and the risk must be assessed on a case-by-case basis,” according to the guidelines.

PHAC recommends a systemic risk review of the event, based on the following factors:

  • Who is attending the event? Are they arriving from high risk regions? Are they from high-risk groups, such as older adults? Are they from critical infrastructure roles, such as healthcare workers? Are you expecting a large number of people, which might cause overcrowding and the greater likelihood of a person carrying the virus?
  • What is the event program? Activities such as singing, cheering and close physical contact could contribute to virus spread.
  • Events outdoors –with better ventilation—are lower risk than indoor events. Will participants consistently be within 2 metres of each other?
  • Multi-day and longer events increase transmission risk.
  • Can you increase the number of hand hygiene stations? Can you maintain a 2-metre distance between participants? Will health professionals or first responders be on site to support participants who exhibits symptoms?

PHAC suggests several risk mitigation strategies:

  • Prevent crowding, limit participants and change the venue;
  • Avoid mass arrival and departures;
  • Select packaged food and beverages over buffet stations;
  • Increase handwashing facilities;
  • Increase personal protection measures around handwashing, sneezing and coughing etiquette and staying home if ill;
  • Move to a virtual or live-streamed event; and
  • Modify the event program to reduce close physical contact amongst participants.

Cancelling your major fundraiser could have a significant impact on your bottom line. Beyond event concerns, what impacts might your non-profit face from COVID-19?

  • Prolonged absences by staff and volunteers.
  • Increased demand for your services but also a disruption in your ability to serve your communities.
  • Cancelling programming.
  • Decreased donations and budget implications as economic strain impacts the community.

How can you get ahead of these concerns?

  • Be knowledgeable. Watch the news and read pertinent online updates which might affect you and your colleagues. Communicate frequently with your staff, volunteers, clients and other stakeholders to reassure and educate them.
  • Support your staff and visitors with abundant opportunities to practice good hand hygiene. Increase the space between desks and workstations. Increase cleaning frequency.
  • Revisit and communicate your policies around sick leave. Can you facilitate working from home?
  • Reassess business travel: is it essential, or can it be postponed?
  • Encourage self-quarantine for anyone who feels ill. If an employee is confirmed to be ill with COVID-19, follow PHAC guidelines about reporting and controlling the spread to others. Consider a temporary closure if your risk assessment warrants it.

PHAC says the Canadian health system is prepared to respond if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in Canada. The country is prepared: are you?