HR Strategy

How employers can respond as Covid cases rise

With Covid cases on the rise, an epidemiologist shares workplace mitigation measures.
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· 3 min read

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It’d be nice if Covid went away for good, but just like Nickelback, it never quite seems to. And as mandatory RTO is in full swing for many companies heading into the fall, it appears the virus may be joining employees back in the office as cases and hospitalizations rise.

HR Brew spoke with Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, about how HR leaders can help workplaces respond to rising Covid cases.

The latest. The number of positive Covid tests and hospitalizations has been rising since mid-June, with a 13.5% positivity rate in the week ending Sep. 2, up from around 4% in June, according to the New York Times.

With that, some doctors are recommending that high-risk individuals or their caretakers start masking again to protect themselves, CNN reported. “It’s riskier that you will get infected now than it was a month or two ago, without question, probably twice as risky. If you’re trying to be careful, it’s time to whip out the mask again,” Robert Wachter, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, said.

Workplace safety. “A lot of places are bringing people back [to the office] and forgetting that there was this Covid thing,” Wallace told HR Brew. She said that it’s important for employers to remember that a combination of mitigation efforts will be helpful in reducing the spread of Covid.

“I’m not saying everyone in their office needs to have a mask on, but if you’re in a crowded conference room, [it’s] not a bad idea,” she said, adding that people should consider practicing social distancing, wash their hands, and make sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations.

Wallace also recommended employers “try to be a little more flexible right now with hybrid work schedules, and [make] sure that they don’t have a ton of people sharing space on the same days.”

If an employee does test positive, the CDC recommends they stay home for five days, and mask days six through 10. Wallace said that with these guidelines still in place, employers should not be penalizing employees who have to be out of the office due to a positive Covid test. Since most states have retired their Covid leave policies, HR might consider offering benefits such as flexible work to stop the spread.

Finally, HR can encourage employees to get their latest Covid booster shot, the same way some encourage employees to get their annual flu shot. The latest protection against Covid won’t be rolled out until mid-September, but Wallace noted, “It’s part of the wellness routine for fall.”

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