Your employees Were likely pleased that COVID-19 restrictions were being eased back by states and counties across the United States. But with the Delta variant causing increased issues and the flu season soon approaching, there is a strong rationale for maintaining some of your pandemic protections — and for developing a Workplace Communicable Disease Plan.
What exactly is a Workplace Communicable Disease Plan? And why does it include maintaining some pandemic protections?
A Workplace Communicable Disease Plan is a customized set of standards designed to protect a business’ workers from the spread of airborne- and fomite-transmissible diseases in the workplace, thereby protecting the business itself. It could include a wide range of practices to be applied as fits to the public health environment, such as those implemented during the pandemic — health screenings, masks, distancing, structural barriers, enhanced cleaning, personal hygiene and handwashing, air handling controls and keeping ill people out of the workplace.
The goal of the plan is not only to ensure the business is prepared should another pandemic arise, but to reduce transmission of regularly occurring communicable diseases such as influenza, norovirus (mostly fomite and foodborne transmission) and other respiratory viruses as well. By developing a flexible plan, considering the practices developed to curtail the spread of COVID, the implementation can be customized to the current situation of the business and disease.
While developing such a plan is simply a best practice for many businesses, it is becoming a mandate in some areas as well. In early May, the state of New York amended its Labor Law to require that businesses implement an airborne infectious disease exposure prevention standard based on a model to be developed by the state department of labor. This legislation is specific to New York, but it applies to all facilities in the state, regardless of where its headquarters is based. As the bill states, “Workplace transmission plays a significant role in community spread of COVID-19 and any other airborne infectious disease, constituting a significant public health threat.” Thus, we believe that other states will be following it closely to potentially pass similar regulations; especially if we see workplace-related outbreaks this fall.
When we look back at the incidents of other respiratory diseases over the last year and a half, it is easy to see why it makes sense to maintain some pandemic protections. For example, there was a 98% decrease in the number of people hospitalized for influenza in 2020 from the same time the previous year. On the other hand, as COVID protections eased this summer, indicators pointed to a rise in other transmissible diseases, with Minnesota health officials warning of a significant increase in norovirus and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) citing a surge in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases, with both being increasingly detected by test labs.
While bringing its share of challenges, the pandemic also carried with it a mindset shift that will benefit us all to maintain. Pre-pandemic, people would go into work at all costs, well or sick. It was, in essence, a badge of honor to keep working when ill; with others looking down on those who took too many sick days. It was furthered by the fact that many workers did not receive sick pay, so could not afford to stay out regardless of their health.
The pandemic brought a mindset shift to all that, with the censure now brought on those who dared to come to work with even the hint of a sneeze, cough or even sniffle. While we can certainly ease up on some of the extensive restrictions and fears of COVID, there is a distinct benefit to retaining some of that mentality — particularly that of encouraging and compensating employees to stay home when ill. Not only will it help the continued decline of COVID, but it will also help to improve the overall health in the workplace, and the community, on a long-term basis.
As TAG Senior Director, Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Ben Miller stated in the June TAG Talks video, “There are definite benefits just outside of what we’ve learned with COVID, and some of these are things we can continue and carry out into the future.”