With the end of winter break and holiday vacations, Boston-based businesses and universities face an influx of visitors as well as returning students and workers. While a lot of us would like to pretend that the pandemic is over, it’s still important to take precautions. 

True, mask mandates are gone, and they’re not especially likely to come back unless we see a devastating increase in COVID cases. Travel to even the most highly-restrictive nations has reopened. Even so, businesses and universities walk a fine line between trying to keep people safe and getting back to business productively -without significant business continuity hassles. 

But while talk of going back to “normal” may be attractive, there has nonetheless been a surge of COVID cases in China. In the United States, we’re facing a “tripledemic” flood of RSV and flu cases right alongside COVID, which is driving up hospitalizations, damaging productivity, and disrupting business operations. These things should make us all take another look at how we’re protecting ourselves and our communities. 

Why Worry Now? 

Do you really need to be concerned so late into the pandemic? Well, chances are that you’re less concerned than you are simply tired of getting sick, and understandably so – it causes significant hassles for business and families. Some individuals have contracted COVID multiple times already, only to catch the flu or RSV this winter. 

Unfortunately, as long as successive variants of COVID continue to be more transmissible than previous ones, people will continue to get infected. Each infection increases the chance of facing Long COVID, which has already taken millions out of the workforce with a  $3.7 trillion hit to productivity as of November 2022. 

Consider how this affects your business. A simple case of RSV or the flu could take out a number of workers for a couple weeks and severely limit productivity. If your employee ends up hospitalized, that person could be out of the picture for even longer. A case of COVID, even a mild one, could initially take an employee out of the workforce for a week or two, but in a small percentage of cases, Long COVID could cause severe, long-term symptoms that devastate them and your productivity for months or years ahead. 

Again, the current variants of COVID are more transmissible than ever before. The variant XBB.1.5, also called Kraken, is one of the most transmissible viral diseases registered to date, and hundreds of millions of people in China have already been infected ever since the end of the strict Zero COVID policies implemented by the Chinese government. With the addition of RSV and the flu, understaffed and overwhelmed hospitals are experiencing a continued and worsening health care crisis.

The question becomes, what are businesses to do in the face of rising cases and a tripledemic while also trying to reopen and regain pre-pandemic levels of productivity and morale? 

Making COVID Management and Testing Accessible Where the Real Threats Exist – Corporate Events or Offsites

Getting back to normal in areas of high transmissibility, without precautions, can hurt productivity and business continuity. Why risk that kind of damage to your organization, not to mention danger to employees and students, if there are other options? 

Some of the more obvious safety options are also the most inconvenient. You could consider mandating KN95 masks on the premises or requesting proof of vaccination from employees, but masking is a hassle and not “the new normal,” while proof of vaccination is now understood to be ineffective since being vaccinated does not stop you from getting or transmitting Covid -, and they’re both good ways to frustrate individuals who have been dealing with COVID restrictions for years. 

Some event organizers and business owners choose to request that attendees perform home tests before heading to an event. Others require proof of a negative PCR test in advance. However, both of these options, while more convenient than the ones above, also have their downsides. 

The low accuracy of home antigen tests is well known: on average they only have a 55 to 73 percent chance of a correct result. The FDA’s updated guidance recommends serial testing, meaning testing two to three times 48 hours apart before an event, but keeping track of so many tests (trust, but verify is unfortunately required) and ensuring the testing is implemented correctly are nearly impossible. 

By contrast, PCR tests are highly accurate, but many PCR tests require days (sometimes many days) to return results, by which time some individuals could already have contracted COVID after testing and even already become contagious. 

Part of the answer is to provide now affordable high accuracy, and rapid testing options on-site, as attendees enter the venue. New rapid (30-min) PCR or 12-min ultra-high accuracy microfluidics (M-Ag) tests can make the difference between the considerable hassles of dealing with COVID quarantines and losing a percentage of your workforce vs. maintaining morale and productivity even through a surge. With a four-plex PCR test, you can even determine whether team members or event attendees have Flu A, Flu B, RSV, or COVID – all in one test – so they can work with their doctor rapidly to get the right regimen in place for a faster return to health. 

Rather than making inconvenient mandates that might not help slow the spread, you can rely on proven tactics like simply offering best-in-class testing at a health station set up right at the site of your business or event. Alternatively, employees or students can come directly to our Boston testing center and get same-day results. 

Whether you are heading back to school, the workplace, or traveling to a corporate event, accurate testing is still one of the best ways to protect against spreading COVID and the other viruses circulating today… and the associated hassles. Safety and productivity must continue to be a priority, and today there are innovative solutions to help you achieve both.