Floor plan

The high season of Covid will strike every year. Workers, the economy will pay the price


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This year’s flu season is going to be “a huge one,” according to former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and Pfizer board member Dr. Scott Gottlieb. But it’s not 2021, or any single-year health crisis, that is going to cause the biggest problems for the economy in the post-pandemic future. According to Gottlieb, it is the twin specter of an annual peak in influenza season and the onset of a lasting peak in Covid season that, together, will cost the economy and workers more than imagined.

Gottlieb told CNBC he believes the end of the pandemic phase of Covid-19 is in sight, but matching the outlook of many epidemiologists, he says the endemic phase is coming. Or in other words, Covid will never go away for good.

Much like flu season, expect an annual Covid season, and businesses should prepare for it, Gottlieb said in a recent video interview with CNBC. Covid will be a “persistent, persistent risk virus that circulates every year,” he said.

Already, flu season is costing businesses billions of dollars a year. According to employment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the 2019-2020 influenza season Employers alone have cost $ 13 billion, but the cost of lost production has reached $ 21 billion in recent years.

“The total blow to public health and also to productivity is going to be too big for us to maintain and just go on as usual,” Gottlieb said. Considering the tens of billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs that influenza takes to the economy each year, he said adding Covid on top of that, “will be just too much to bear, in my opinion.”

Colleagues in protective masks using infrared thermometer to measure temperature before entering office.

filadendron | E + | Getty Images

Right now, the United States is moving from the pandemic phase to the endemic phase of the virus. The precise timing of this change is not yet clear. “It’s going to be complicated and it won’t be clear,” he said. “We’ll find out when we look back a few years from now.”

Because most workers aren’t back in the office yet, and most employers don’t plan to bring everyone back to the office soon, they haven’t had to think about what will happen when we get back to work. full-time. “It’s more likely 2022,” he said. But Gottlieb added that he believes we are now seeing the last major wave of infection during the pandemic phase, caused by Delta, and companies need to think long term.

“I don’t think companies have really taken a very comprehensive approach to improving the working environment, the workflow,” he said. “We need to start thinking about this. It’s not just about improving the aeration system. It changes the working day. So the question becomes how do companies deal with the fact that it’s going to at least flow? on par with the flu. “

As the flu season begins this year, here are some of the ideas the former FDA commissioner highlighted that companies need to start thinking about to create a permanent work environment that is safer for employees and better for. the economy.

De-densification of offices must be permanent, but may be seasonal

Many changes will need to be made to the physical environment of the office. Upgrading an office to hospital-grade air filtration, for example, is an engineering expense that will create a safer environment for workers, according to Gottlieb, as is increasing access to outdoor space and air quality monitoring. But there are also other solutions in the office.

We move away from the tight offices that had become common in the era of open floor plans. It should be a feature of the office redesign in the aftermath of Covid, and Gottlieb said this must be a permanent feature. De-densifying offices “especially during peak Covid flu season,” he said, would help reduce the risk.

Many employees want a hybrid work option, and allowing workers the flexibility of working from home could help de-densify office space. For months, employers have had to fight against the “great resignation” of the workforce. Companies have been forced to offer hybrid options and more flexible working hours to attract workers. Now, this offer may also be in the best interest of public health.

Focus on meetings, from inside the office

Companies have been hosting remote meetings for 18 months now, but even when workers return to the office, the Zoom camera may not go away. Gottlieb said one way employers can keep workers safe is to encourage zooming in on meetings “even in the office so you don’t crowd people into conference rooms.”

Giving workers the ability to zoom in on meetings, even those working in the office, will control overcrowding in dense areas and may help keep employees socially distanced.

One of the reasons CEOs cite for bringing workers back to the office is the inability to recreate the creative spark and haphazardness of in-person collaboration through Zooms, but Gottlieb says this new office collaboration needs to happen more.

“These are the kinds of things we have to think about doing if we are serious about avoiding unnecessary interactions that can be conducive to spread,” Gottlieb said.

Alternative transport ideas

For employees who travel by public transit, flexible working hours could be beneficial. Asking workers to go to the office during off-peak hours, instead of rush hours, will reduce congestion on subways, buses and trains during these peak hours.

Instead of public transit, Gottlieb said alternative transportation could also be an option for employers to consider offering employees. “Trying to find an alternative form of transportation so that not everyone is rushing on public transportation” is another way for companies to protect workers, he said.

“There are things companies can do, at least during the time this virus is circulating, a kind of peak Covid season, to try to reduce risk and improve respiratory health, and we need to think about it. what this build will look like. “said Gottlieb.

Through Alicia Doniger, CNBC Strategic Content Intern

On Thursday, November 12, CNBC is hosting its first annual Executive Workforce Council summit for influential HRDs and diversity leaders from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET. Apply to WEC to attend www.cnbccouncils.com/wec.

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