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COVID-19 Briefing - Tuesday, 2/9

Tackling vaccine hesitancy, side effects, and how many people really have COVID

Today's Recap:

Best Questions:

An employee still has “side effects” five days after being vaccinated. Should we exclude him for the full 10 days?

Yes. Most people who experience post-vaccine side effects experience them within 48 hours of getting the shot and only last for one-to-two days. However, you should watch out for uncommon side effects like cough, shortness of breath, or loss of taste and smell. Those, plus symptoms that last longer than 48 hours or start later than 48 hours after getting vaccinated, might mean you have COVID - not that you’re experiencing side effects. If any of that happens, it’s more likely that the sick person was already exposed and incubating the virus when they got vaccinated or just after, before the protection kicks in two to three weeks after the second dose.

Are COVID tests any less accurate for the new variants?

Great question. According to our friends at Johns’ Hopkins, the answer is (mostly) no. They found that testing accuracy remained unchanged when variants were introduced for all but four of the 246 molecular (PCR) tests that are approved by the FDA. For those four, they don’t have enough data to say if the variants really do affect the test outcome, but they know the mutation is in the general area that the test looks at, called the “spike protein.” For rapid tests, the majority (over 90%) target a different area of the virus, not the spike protein, and as a result, shouldn’t change with these particular variants. If you want to geek out, here’s their report on this.

We’re seeing fewer positives but we’re also seeing fewer employees being tested.  Are other clients experiencing the same thing?

We know that fewer tests are currently being administered in the US, which is a bit worrisome. All the science points to the need for increased testing (and daily testing in some situations), which translates to millions more tests needed. Experts aren’t sure if people who are sick are just not bothering with the hassle and expense of going to get tested, or if we’ve really peaked with cases. Fingers crossed that it’s the latter, but we’ll need more testing to be sure.

We have many employees who are still experiencing symptoms weeks after testing COVID+. When does someone officially become a “long hauler”? Should we ask for a doctor’s note?

For many COVID patients, some symptoms can last weeks or even months. There’s no formal definition for a long hauler, and the huge variation in symptoms means that two people might have drastically different experiences. The more severe the COVID illness, the more likely you are to have lingering symptoms. The most common long-term symptoms are cough, severe and often debilitating fatigue, body aches or joint pain, shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, headaches, brain fog, and difficulty sleeping. Unfortunately, this “long COVID” may be more common than we realized, with studies in France, Switzerland, and the Faroe Islands showing 35-54% of patients with mild COVID had persistent symptoms after two to four months, including 50-76% of those reporting new symptoms that they didn’t have when they were sick, or that disappeared and reappeared. About 10% report those lingering symptoms as “severe.”

For someone with ongoing issues for months post-COVID, we think it’s okay to ask for a doctor’s note, especially if those symptoms are severe and they’re already working with their doctor. For more subjective symptoms like fatigue, it can also make sense to rely on the employee to tell you when they’re ready to get back to work. Some symptoms aren’t an issue, like loss of taste or smell, which can last months but shouldn’t have any impact on when someone gets back to work.

What can we do to help COVID long haulers?

We recommend supporting long haulers with your HR team, with leaves of absence or reasonable accommodations as needed. Their needs will vary depending on their symptoms and severity, so there’s no one-size-fits-all option. There are also some great new post-COVID recovery clinics popping up around the country that are designed to support these long-haulers with specialists, rehab support, and more. Mt. Sinai in NY, Stamford Hospital in CT, Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, and UC Davis in CA are just a few facilities with strong COVID recovery clinics that are a good resource to share with your long haulers.

Best Read:

We loved the term “theatrical cleaning” when it was first coined months ago. Now, we’re all still spending a lot of time, energy and money on it when masking, social distancing and ventilation may be more effective. Is it a huge waste of time?

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Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.