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.
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.
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.
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.