As hospitals experience an upsurge in COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases this winter, the workforce could experience higher absenteeism rates and health problems. But employers can take steps to mitigate the spread.
Two new #omicron subvariants are going mainstream in the US just in time for the holidays – and they’re seven times more evasive than their predecessor, BA.5. Additionally, healthcare providers are seeing record rates of influenza and RSV, with children at particular risk of hospitalization. In November, the US Department of Health and Human Services reported that 76% of pediatric hospital beds were occupied.
As the winter “tridemic” continues, employers could see more and more employees calling in sick to care for themselves and loved ones. However, routine COVID testing remains a critical way to limit the number of cases hitting the workforce, says Doug Field, chief revenue officer at Phase Scientific Americas, a company that provides diagnostic tools and data to workers. health care providers.
Read more: ‘Your Likelihood of Getting COVID Has Increased: Here’s What Employers Need to Know
“I hear people say they don’t test because a [majority] of their employee population is vaccinated,” says Field. “But the thing is, you can still get COVID if you’re vaccinated, and you can still give COVID to others. So unless you test, you don’t know.”
Although precautions such as vaccinations and masking reduce the risk of catching COVID, it is important to note that as the virus evolves, it is more likely to outgrow the protections offered by currently available vaccines. . Vaccines can also decrease the severity of COVID symptoms experienced in the first few weeks of testing positive, but they don’t effectively stop long COVID and the health costs and absences that go with it. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal natural medicine found that vaccines only reduced the risk of getting long COVID by 15%.
As employers opt for hybrid work structures, office parties and even a full return to in-person work, Field advises leaders to establish or reinstate a testing policy. Ideally, an employer would ask workers to test themselves once or twice a week, whether through rapid home test kits or point-of-care testing, where a medical professional performs a test themselves. fast and can prescribe treatment if the patient is positive. . Notably, healthcare providers are offering combination tests, using a single nasal swab to test for COVID, influenza and RSV.
Otherwise known as test-to-treat, workers can also take a home test and virtually connect with a provider to receive care if they test positive for COVID or simply feel unwell with a negative result.
“A good group of employees want to know they’re entering a safe work environment,” Field says. “So it should be a positive thing for an employer to provide testing.”
Read more: The price of long COVID: what the undiagnosed disease is costing employers
Field stresses that PCR testing is still the gold standard for COVID testing and recommends employers give workers the time and resources to easily access a testing site if they seriously suspect they have been infected or tested. positive in a rapid test. But home testing can help employers and employees quickly assess the risk of entering the office.
“The home test is very accurate for what I call surveillance testing,” Field says. “If you test positive, you don’t go out into your community and can seek care. If you get a PCR test, you have to wait 24 to 48 hours for those results, and you can go out with your family and friends. while being positive.”
And the Biden administration is still requiring all health care insurers to cover the cost of eight COVID tests per person per month, covering up to $12 per test. This means that whether employers are self-funded or work with an insurance company, they can provide free testing to all of their staff.
Read more: When COVID is no longer a public health emergency, what happens to health care?
And yet a Phase survey found that while 81% of employers offer some form of COVID testing, less than half offer employees home testing kits and only 19% have testing solutions in place to deal with. At the same time, 67% of employers report a significant increase in absenteeism. Field points out that absenteeism rates will likely rise if employers don’t take precautionary measures.
Not to mention that Field is concerned that due to less national attention on COVID, as well as a reduction in the number of people and states reporting positive cases to the CDC, the United States will not don’t have a clear picture of the extent of the spread of COVID.
“Honestly, that [COVID] may even be worse than last year,” says Field. “It is important that employers pay attention to this and protect their employees.
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