The end of August typically signals the beginning of the flu vaccination season. According to the CDC, the flu is most common during the fall and winter, with influenza activity often beginning to increase in October. With variants of COVID-19 causing an uptick in the number of COVID infections, it may be likely that there could be two serious viral outbreaks simultaneously.
Influenza and COVID-19 can spread quickly throughout the workplace. In 2017 the CDC stated that the seasonal flu accounts for 17 million lost workdays, and costs more than $10 billion in direct medical expenses. Even a company that embraces remote or hybrid work can experience day to day productivity losses if their employees get sick. This could put greater stress on businesses who are already in a precarious situation from the effects of COVID-19. While rates of Influenza were lower than usual last season, that is due in part to the increased social distancing and mask mandates put in place to help slow the spread of coronavirus. Now with relaxed guidance, it is predicted that the upcoming flu season will be more severe.
Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Both flu and COVID cause symptoms such as fever, sore throat, congestion, headache, fatigue and cough. Some symptoms of COVID however, seem to be unique to the virus, such as loss of taste or smell, gastrointestinal distress, and shortness of breath. Symptoms of COVID may be more severe in those employees who are not yet vaccinated. If any of your employees are displaying symptoms of either virus, it should be encouraged for them to stay home and get tested for COVID-19 infection.
Flu and COVID-19 vaccines are the most effective method to prevent illness from both viruses. The CDC recommends flu vaccines for everyone over the age of 6 months who do not have any contraindications and have updated their recommendation on the administration of multiple vaccines; You no longer need to wait 14 days between vaccinations. COVID-19 vaccines and the flu vaccine can be given at the same visit. For those who have already been vaccinated for COVID-19, they can safely receive their flu shot at any point.
In addition to encouraging your employees to get vaccinated, some additional steps you can take are:
- Be flexible regarding remote work policies, if feasible.
- Encourage employees to stay home if they are feeling ill or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or the flu.
- Encourage employees who are feeling ill to get tested to rule out the possibility of COVID-19 infection.
- Be mindful of social distancing.
- Decrease the frequency of contact between employees.
- Thoroughly and frequently clean high traffic areas and shared surfaces.
- Follow guidelines regarding mask mandates and PPE usage.
- Communicate clearly with your staff regarding health policies.
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