Should You Worry About Long COVID?
Many companies have mistakenly decided that the danger of Covid is over, since infections from current variants like the BA.5 omicron subvariant tend to be less severe than those of past variants. Many states have lifted Covid restrictions, and the world in general seems intent on getting back to business as usual.
But with new data showing that one out of five individuals may get Covid systems that last over three months and .5%-2% of people are continuing to experience more severe Covid symptoms that last for many months or even years after an initial infection, other states are bringing back safety measures. Long Covid, as experts commonly call these lingering symptoms, can be inconvenient and in some cases even life-altering. And as research continues to show the seriousness of Long COVID, businesses need to take notice as well.
Here’s what businesses should know. Long Covid is a condition with a remarkably elusive definition. The only thing most experts seem to agree on is that Long COVID or post-Covid conditions encompass various symptoms that last anywhere from a month to several years after an individual has contracted Covid, and symptoms can be very mild or very severe.
Beyond that, there’s not a lot of consensus as to how widespread Long COVID is or what symptoms the term can encompass. Long Covid could affect anywhere from 2.5% to 30% of those who contract Covid in the first place. Symptoms could include shortness of breath, brain fog, overwhelming fatigue, and around 200 other possible symptoms depending on whom you ask.
One thing is certain: for individuals, Covid could really ruin your day, your month, even your year. And at a corporate level, Long COVID could affect the productivity and quality of life of your entire team.
Is Long Covid a Threat?
Long Covid presents a unique threat to your company’s long-term productivity and efficiency for many reasons. One of the most sobering facts is that Long COVID is not limited to those who have had a severe infection or hospitalization due to Covid. Even individuals who have had a minor or asymptomatic case can suffer from life-altering, productivity-sapping symptoms up to years later, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not – and it isn’t just impacting older demographics.
Plus, many who became ill with earlier variants have lost their immunity over time and are now getting reinfected for the second or third time, increasing their chances of experiencing Long COVID. The lack of effective treatment for Long COVID has sent many long-haulers on a fruitless search for solutions to lingering symptoms. Minimal treatment options have produced frustration and even desperation in those with long-term, debilitating symptoms.
Still you may be thinking, are these long-term symptoms such a big deal? Well, it’s important to understand that when medical experts talk about Long COVID, these experts are not talking about the sniffles. It’s true Long COVID symptoms can include minor conditions like a sporadic mild fever or a loss of taste or smell. But some long hauler cases can be devastating, encompassing symptoms of persistent shortness of breath in up to 80% of cases, significant organ damage, and even a 50% increased risk for heart disease compared to someone who has never had Covid. There may also be cognitive issues, extreme fatigue, anxiety and depression, and much more.
These cases have wreaked havoc in the corporate world. Many people got Covid at work and are now suffering from long-term symptoms. Not only has Long COVID damaged many companies’ productivity levels, but it has contributed to labor shortages by taking many individuals out of the workforce entirely.
All told, it’s no wonder that many people are unwilling to get back into the workplace while Covid is still raging. Even if you choose to believe the very lowest estimates that say around two percent of people who get Covid will experience highly debilitating symptoms from Long COVID, would you consider losing a percentage of your employees annually an acceptable risk, especially considering that the percentage is compounded by high reinfection/resurgence rates with every new variant?
Assuaging Employee Concerns
A growing percentage of employees are understandably asking, “Why do you want me to come into a crowded environment when you can’t protect my safety?” It’s a question that CEOs and HR personnel need to be able to answer if they ever want to bring their teams back to large in-person gatherings in the workplace or at indoor corporate events.
The problem is that many businesses fail to take Long COVID seriously even now. That’s not particularly surprising in a country where advocacy groups asking Congress to address Long COVID have been largely ignored or brushed aside. Companies need to do better than check a box for safety if they want to care for their employees, who may be concerned about getting sick or bringing Covid home to their families. Since the government has yet to address the problem, the responsibility falls on businesses to pick up the slack.
Some businesses take a reactive approach, relying on the bare minimum for safety measures, working to contain major outbreaks as they occur, and paying workers compensation to affected employees. But workers’ compensation after the fact is small comfort to individuals who suffer from severe symptoms that affect their employment and lifestyle in the long term. So the answer to employee concerns regarding Covid is to rely on best-in-class safety measures from the start. Vaccination isn’t enough, since vaccinated employees can still get and transmit Covid and therefore suffer from Long COVID as well.
There are two main factors in best-in-class Covid risk management: comprehensive education and fast AND accurate testing in crowded indoor environments like corporate events and gatherings.
Educate your employees in order to garner consensus and caution among your staff. If only a few are concerned about taking proper precautions, you’ll constantly have to battle for adequate safety in the workplace. Your employees should be aware of the risks of Long COVID, particularly with BA.5, which is the most transmissible variant to date. And while the severity of death and hospitalization has certainly dropped, the risks associated with Long COVID have not.
Another area you can educate your employees about is the danger of relying on traditional “rapid” home tests. Home antigen tests are inadequate to prevent infected individuals from spreading Covid. First, you would have to trust that all employees will accurately report their results and choose to self-quarantine. Second, you would be relying on tests that are only 38% to 74% accurate. For client organizations who believed “traditional rapid lateral-flow antigen” testing was adequate for corporate indoor events, the FDA has effectively called foul, recommending repeat or serial testing following a negative result on any at-home COVID-19 test, whether or not you have COVID-19 symptoms. If you want any degree of certainty that people aren’t bringing the virus into the workplace, you must either administer these tests on a regular basis to ensure a higher probability of an accurate result, or you must ditch home tests in favor of more accurate options like PCR and microfluidics tests.
Which leads directly to the next point: accurate testing remains the best way to prevent Covid from spreading throughout your company. The reasoning is simple: individuals wearing masks can still contract Covid. So can vaccinated employees. But any employee who tests negative for Covid with new highly accurate rapid microfluidics (M-Ag) or PCR tests, like the one that organizations like AllClear provides, can have a high degree of certainty that they will not spread the virus in the workplace.
Long Covid may continue to be a huge threat to businesses for a long time to come. The consequences of failing to respond correctly in areas that bring large gatherings indoors are very serious, both to your individual employees and to your business as a whole. Thankfully, you can significantly mitigate these risks with best-in-class protocols and policies.