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November 16, 2023

Expert Insights for Respiratory Illness Season

The end of the COVID-19 public health emergency doesn’t mean that employers should stop protecting workers from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections, like flu and RSV. In fact, these illnesses tend to surge during the fall and winter months, and now is a great time for employers to strengthen their workplace health and safety protocols.

As of Monday, just 13.9% of U.S. adults have received the updated COVID-19 vaccine, and about 35% of adults have received this year’s flu shot. As Americans grow wary of protection measures, public health experts warn of a possible “tripledemic” that could strain our healthcare system – and create real risks for employers.

Last week, we convened two leading experts – former OSHA Director Dr. David Michaels and epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina – to offer their insights and answer your questions about how to protect employees from COVID-19, flu and RSV. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Vaccines remain our best protection.

Immunizations against COVID-19, flu, and RSV are still the best protection for reducing the risk of serious illness, hospitalizations, long-term health impacts and death.

Yet, many workers who are open to vaccines don’t seek them out because finding a clinic and scheduling an appointment is too burdensome, especially now that COVID-19 vaccines are no longer being purchased and distributed by the federal government.

Employers should consider ways to reduce friction as much as possible – by offering on-site or near-site vaccine clinics, by providing paid time off for vaccinations, and by incentivizing employees to be up-to-date with their respiratory vaccines. All of these proven strategies can help make it easier for your workers to get their updated shots.

2. Education and open communication build trust.

Employers can protect employee health by sharing trusted facts about COVID-19, flu and RSV, and by helping employees recognize and respond quickly to respiratory symptoms. Effective communication can also help protect against the spread of misinformation and build trust that your organization remains committed to workplace health and safety – even after the pandemic emergency has ended.

3. Update your employee wellness policies.

Employers should evaluate existing policies to optimize wellness support. Accommodating vulnerable employees, offering paid sick leave, creating a “mask-friendly” environment, and aligning policies with best practices can create a healthier, more resilient workplace.

4. A well-ventilated workplace is healthier for everyone.

Improving indoor air quality and ventilation can significantly reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses in the workplace. By ensuring that HVAC systems are well-maintained and meet recommended standards, you can add a layer of protection that will help reduce the risk of disease transmission across your workforce. Our guide to Clean Air for a Healthy Workforce contains tips to help you get started.

Graphic- 4 Steps to Respiratory Wellness at Work Resource

Download Our Latest Guide

4 Steps to Respiratory Wellness at Work

Our latest toolkit contains practical tips and updated guidance to help you protect your workforce, including:

  • Communication tips to help educate your employees about safety and wellness initiatives and get their buy-in;
  • Recommendations to update and optimize your safety and wellness policies;
  • The latest information on vaccines for COVID-19, flu, and RSV; and,
  • A 4-step strategy to navigate respiratory illness season.

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