Flu Season during COVID-19: How to Protect Employees
by Katie Palmer 10/28/2020
Flu and COVID-19: Twindemic?
A twindemic is looking like a real possibility in 2020. A twindemic is what experts are referring to as the overlap of a severe flu season and a possible surge of COVID-19 cases. Here are the biggest concerns regarding the possible twindemic:
- It could cause a major impact on our hospitals and hospital bed capacity
- People could get both viruses at the same time. The effects of having both the viruses are unknown
- There is no antibody cross-protection from flu and COVID-19
- Because both viruses have similar symptoms, the overlapping can cause testing shortages as people try to figure out which one they have
- Positive COVID-19 cases are rising in the United States
- The 2019-2020 flu season was going to be one of the deadliest yet before lockdown was enforced
What are the positives?
The Southern Hemisphere is already going through their flu season, and those countries are recording record low cases of the flu. The New York Times writes, “Flu activity in the Southern Hemisphere, which is often predictive of activity in the United States, was 99 percent below normal during its winter.” Most experts believe the lower flu infection rates are due to the safety precautions that were in place because of COVID-19.
Dr. Timothy Laird, interim chief medical officer of Health First Medical Group, said doctors “are hoping—but not betting on—a lighter influenza season this year as people practice physical distancing, mask wearing, and better hand hygiene.”
Another positive: respirators protect against the flu. Since many dentists and healthcare professionals are already legally required to wear respirators when working close to patients, they already have greater protection against the flu.
A recent study published by the American Dental Association (ADA) found that the COVID-19 infection rate among dentists is less than 1%. Dr. Marcelo Araujo, chief science officer of the ADA, said, “This means that what dentists are doing—heightened infection control and increased attention to patient and dental team safety—is working.”
It’s important to know that N95 and KN95 “masks” aren’t masks, but respirators. If your employees wear respirators, check out our blog, Does my Dental Practice need a Respiratory Protection Program?
How can you protect employees?
The number one protection against the flu is the flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes, “The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year.” Not only does the shot lower your chances of getting the flu, but it also decreases your chances of getting hospitalized or dying.
However, according to the CDC, only 48% of adults in the United States get the flu shot. The CDC writes, “Healthcare systems could be overwhelmed treating both patients with flu and patients with COVID-19. This means getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever.”
To protect your employees, you can provide flu shots at your workplace. Or you can give them incentives to get the shot. The best time to get the flu shot is in September or October, but anytime during the flu season is better than never.
Can employers mandate flu vaccines? Some healthcare facilities do. However, Melissa Torres from Akerman writes, “even in healthcare industries, an employer covered under the ADA and Title VII is required to accommodate an applicant’s or employee’s disability or religious beliefs in accordance with applicable law.”
Encourage Employees to Stay Home While Sick
Implement flexible policies for sick employees. If an employee is sick, staying home is the best way to limit the spread of both viruses. The employee can come back to work after their temperature is below 100 °F (37.8 °C) for 24 hours without the help of fever-reducing medicine.
The CDC writes, “Flexible leave policies and alternate work schedules will help prevent the spread of flu at your workplace, allow employees to continue to work or function while limiting contact with others, help maintain continuity of operations, and help people manage their health and their family’s needs.”
This means not penalizing employees for staying home. If at all possible, allow employees to work from home.
Reinforce Safety Precautions
Since COVID-19 safety protocols can protect against the flu as well, ensure employees are still following them. These precautions include:
- Wear masks
- Wash hands often
- Disinfect surfaces often
- Social distance
- Stay home when sick
- Wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Respiratory etiquette (cover coughs and sneezes)
- Self-monitor symptoms
- Screen patients and employees for temperatures and symptoms
- Provide resources to help both employees and patients, such as handwashing posters, tissues, and hand sanitizer stations
- Provide education to employees who may be at high risk for serious COVID-19 and flu complications
For more detailed information on COVID-19 protocols, check out the CDC’s “Guidance for Dental Settings.”
Free COVID-19 Training Module
To protect your employees against both COVID-19 and the flu, assign your employees Smart Training’s free COVID-19 training module.