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March 13, 2023

Three Years of COVID-19: Lessons Learned and Next Steps for Employers

Stephen Massey

It was on this date, March 13, 2020, that the U.S. issued a COVID-19 Emergency Declaration. Three years later, it’s worth considering how COVID-19 continues to shape our daily reality:

  • Roughly half of Americans still work remotely at least part of the time, after a tripling in the rate of full-time remote work during the pandemic.
  • Employers continue to prioritize the mental health of their teams, following a surge in reported levels of psychological distress during the pandemic.
  • The number of lost workdays to COVID-19 in 2022 alone was the equivalent of 1 to 4 million Americans leaving the workforce. And COVID-19 deaths, though down over 90% from their peak, have held roughly steady at about 400 deaths per day over the last 10 months. 

In other words, employers should continue to account for COVID-19 in their efforts to maintain the physical health, mental well-being and productivity of their people, even after the end of the national emergency on May 11, 2023. 

Here are seven tips and resources to guide your company’s COVID-19 response going forward:

  1. Stay nimble in the “new normal.” As long as the virus stays in circulation, you’ll need the right information, flexible policies and surge capacity to be confident in your company’s response. Our newly updated Employer Readiness Assessment is your guide to planning for the post-emergency phase of COVID-19. 
  1. Continue improving your indoor air quality. It’s not just COVID-19—pulling in more outdoor air and filtering the air circulating inside has been shown to reduce infection rates from a number of airborne viruses. Fresh air improves worker productivity, too. Our new Improving Indoor Air Quality action sheet compiles advice from leading experts on the topic. 
  1. Offer accommodations to employees with long COVID. A survey by the Kessler Foundation found 40% of supervisors managed employees with lasting effects from COVID-19—which can be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Making sure your managers are prepared to initiate a conversation about accommodations can help reduce the stigma of working through long COVID and support your employees to thrive without a drop in performance.

    Make clear that anyone can request accommodations at any time, as well as how they can do so.
    The Job Action Network (a service of the U.S. Department of Labor) has provided a list of sample accommodations for long COVID and questions you should consider.
  1. Make it easy for employees to keep their vaccinations up to date. COVID-19 boosters are likely to be with us for the foreseeable future, and public health officials warn that many more Americans need to get boosted in order to protect themselves and others. The communication tips, employer checklist and key messages in our Boost Up for Winter toolkit will remain useful for accelerating booster uptake.
  1. Encourage employees to know their risk of severe COVID-19 illness. The risk of getting very sick isn’t the same for everyone. Our Act Fast Against COVID-19 toolkit offers everything you need to help your employees determine if they’re at risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 illness and how to access effective prescription treatment quickly after infection.
  1. Provide a healthy workplace. The good habits formed during the pandemic—promoting handwashing and proper hygiene, offering paid sick leave and encouraging employees to stay home when they’re unwell, supporting workers who choose to continue masking—will all help you provide a safe environment for your employees and customers. Our Pandemic Preparedness Plan for Businesses offers additional steps and details.

  2. Support workers’ mental health. Our Workplace Mental Health Playbook can help you create a culture of psychological safety, improve mental health benefits and center equity in your workplace mental health strategy.