‘Back to normal’ isn’t good enough: Preventing airborne disease spread in the workplace

November 11, 2022

Primary.Health Editorial Team

3 minutes

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The more ambitious approach we should consider is to take the new learnings and technology innovations that have emerged in response to the pandemic, and apply them to areas of preventative health and wellness that were not options before.

If Doc Brown and Marty McFly let you borrow their Delorean time machine, what year would you jump to? When pandemic weariness sets in, many of us have wished we could go back in time and return to pre-pandemic life. For employers, Human Resources (HR) and safety leaders also wish they could fully move on from COVID firefighting. That way, they could devote more attention to improving the overall health and wellness of their workforce. 

Moving on from firefighting airborne disease sounds great, but is it good enough? The pandemic has emphasized the impact of contagious disease in the workplace, but risks from airborne disease have always been there. HR leaders have an opportunity to implement a new kind of preventative care, protecting their teams from getting sick at work. 

Primary.Health attended the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions Annual Conference this week where our SVP and GM of Enterprise Brad Guth spoke on a panel about how to resume a culture of preventative health and wellness in a post-pandemic world. 

Panelists noted that COVID had disrupted ongoing preventative care and safety initiatives and stressed the importance of reimagining preventative care and safety. COVID also shined a new light on health equity and related challenges such as increasing access to primary care, which companies must adapt to.

Brad piggybacked on that sentiment by challenging the audience to ask themselves whether going back to where we were pre-pandemic is good enough. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, pre-COVID flu vaccination rates were only around 36% compared to 77% for COVID. Employers faced high rates of short term disability claims due to respiratory conditions. Finally, companies lost millions of work days and billions of dollars of productivity due to a preventable illness like flu. 

The more ambitious approach, Brad suggested, is to take the new learnings and technology innovations that have emerged in response to the pandemic, and apply them to areas of preventative health and wellness that were not options before. Solutions can look radically different than they would have just a few years ago.

If you could go back to 2019, what would your 2019 self say if you told them your workforce and their families can self-test for multiple illnesses (e.g. flu, COVID) at home? That they can input the test result in their phone, have an online provider visit the same day, and order an e-prescription for home delivery if necessary? That’s just scratching the surface of new workforce health and wellness directions. It’s time to be bold in order to break down barriers to care and increase access for all employees across a diverse workforce. As Brad concluded, employers can set the bar higher than it’s ever been. They can now use new innovations to achieve those objectives in an environment where the world has adapted to healthcare shifting outside of traditional settings. In reality, the traditional healthcare system did not work great for many employees in the first place. 

Returning to work in a post-pandemic world ultimately requires creating environments your employees want to return to, and where they can be happy and healthy. Primary.Health would love to help you on that journey, so please reach out to us here