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The Executive Briefing - Friday, March 18

How to prep for the next surge

COVID Recap:

  • BA.2 now accounts for nearly a quarter of all COVID infections in the US. (CDC)
  • Two years after the first COVID deaths in the city, New York hit 40,000 residents who have died due to the pandemic. (Gothamist)
  • South Korea’s surge continues, with its deadliest day yet clocked this week. (AP)
  • Pfizer asked the FDA to authorize a fourth dose for those over 65, while Moderna seeks more broad approval for a fourth dose for all adults.. (Washington Post)
  • A new study confirms what many of us learned anecdotally, that Omicron is better at reinfecting people who already had COVID. (Science)
  • Mounting data shows that the J&J shot is nearly as effective at preventing serious illness and death as the other two mRNA vaccines available in the US. (NY Times)
  • Lifesaving COVID drugs are sitting on pharmacy shelves unused, while those who could benefit get sicker. (NPR)
  • High-profile cases in Washington, from the Vice President’s husband to the Prime Minister of Ireland, raise concerns about the president’s risk, and how to get back to normal when the virus is still killing 1000 Americans per day. (NY Times)
  • People with ‘medium COVID’ are stuck in a gray area - still feeling symptoms weeks and months after infection, but often not qualifying for a long COVID diagnosis, at least not yet. (NPR)
  • A new study from Germany reports an increased incidence of newly diagnosed diabetes after COVID. (DG Alerts)

Today’s Health News:

  • At least 59 people have become sick in a Salmonella outbreak. The FDA is still investigating and hasn’t found a source yet. (FDA)
  • Bird flu continues to rise in poultry and wild birds throughout the US, with new cases in backyard flocks across the country. (USDA)
  • 3 children in Wisconsin have died of the flu this year so far. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
  • Another person has contracted H5N6 avian flu in China after contact with infected poultry. H5N6 is still rare - only about 74 cases in the past 8 years, but often deadly. (CIDRAP)
  • A silver lining in the pandemic: mRNA vaccines could spell breakthroughs for everything from cancer to the common flu. (KHN)

Best Questions:

How likely is it that there will be another spike in cases soon?

We definitely think there’s going to be some sort of uptick in cases in the coming weeks, though we’re still hopeful that it will be less dramatic here in the US because so many people have recently been infected with Omicron. In the past, we’ve seen cases rise within a few weeks of similar surges in Europe and Asia, so it’s not surprising that there’s talk of another coming our way. More worrisome is the increased evidence we’re seeing in wastewater, which indicates that it’s already here. What we don’t know is how much protection we’ll have because so many people tested positive in the past few months. While we’re hopeful that immunity from recent infections may help keep cases lower, we’re also acutely aware that we’ve removed most of the mask and vaccination precautions that we had in January, when cases soared out of control. The many factors at play make it hard to predict just how big the next spike will be.

What can we do now to prepare for the next surge?

While we don’t know how bad it might get, we can prepare now for future spikes. First, if you’ve switched to sick calls or let up on enforcing regular wellness checks, remind your managers that if they notice a few employees sick at the same location, they can (and should!) revert to daily wellness checks for a few weeks to break the cycle of illness. Catching even just one or two sick employees who would have otherwise worked with “just some allergies” or “a little flu” can be enough to prevent a full-fledged outbreak that might mean closing down for multiple days. In places where employees work sick, we often find that it’s the manager who either encourages it or doesn’t emphasize the importance of staying home. We get it - staffing troubles and last-minute absences are so hard - but when managers model and talk about the importance of staying home if you have any symptoms, that’s where we see the most success in preventing outbreaks, keeping businesses open, and staying healthy.

Many employees experience allergies at this time of the year.  How do we differentiate between allergies and COVID or Flu or other illness?  

It can be really challenging to differentiate allergies from other illnesses, especially when the key symptoms can be so similar, like sore throat, congestion and cough. Some key differentiators that may suggest that it’s not just allergies are if someone doesn’t usually get allergies, their symptoms are different than usual, or allergy medication doesn’t relieve their symptoms. When there’s a global pandemic, the chances that you have “first time allergies” aren’t great (we really do hear this all the time!). Instead, we recommend that people with new or changed symptoms that differ from their typical allergy symptoms stay home to prevent the spread of illness - whether that’s COVID, flu, or another virus.

Some of our managers are letting employees work because their COVID test was negative, even though one employee had a 101° fever just before the shift!  What should we communicate to managers about negative tests for employees who have symptoms?

This is a really tough issue that we see over and over again. People don’t understand what a negative test means, and they underestimate the severity of other communicable diseases, like the flu. The key message to communicate to managers is that NOBODY should work while they’re sick - not CEOs, not managers, not anyone. It’s also important to share that a negative test doesn’t mean that someone can’t get other people sick. They might still have COVID, since there’s still a strong chance of a false negative result. They might have the flu, RSV, or another easily transmitted virus that can still get others sick. One message that we’ve heard is working well is emphasizing the impact that an outbreak - of COVID or any other virus - can have on the business and the staff if it forces you to shut down for a few days.

Best Read:

Shrugs Over Flu Signal Future Attitudes About Covid - The New York Times

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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.