After over a year of lockdowns and social distancing and masks and businesses closing, the end of the pandemic is finally in sight. The vaccine is rolling out. Starting in May, all Americans will be eligible to receive it. After that, everything will be back to normal, right?
Not quite. First, we have to wait until enough people are vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. In the meantime, precautions like masks and social distancing will still be necessary in public places, such as offices, retail, and other enclosed workplaces.
Furthermore, even after the pandemic is completely over, that doesn’t mean we can just go back to business-as-usual. Businesses in particular need to be vigilant against the spread of germs in order to guard against the next major disease outbreak.
Here are some of the ways pandemic preparedness should continue after COVID is over.
Your COVID Checklist
After over a year, everyone knows the basic steps for guarding against COVID. Wear a mask. Stay at least six feet away from other people. Wash your hands. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. For businesses, there are a number of other items that go on a pandemic preparedness checklist, such as one that’s provided by CleanRated.org.
Some of those items, such as social distancing, will hopefully go away once the pandemic is officially over. However, other items on your pandemic checklist should probably stick around permanently. Disinfecting surfaces is important to stopping the spread of disease – particularly surfaces that get touched often by employees and customers. Beyond that, make sure your entire facility is cleaned regularly and thoroughly.
It may also be a good idea to continue providing your employees with hand sanitizer. And many experts agree, wearing masks and keep plexiglass dividers in place should probably continue, at least for a while, to stop germs from spreading.
Your Return-to-Work Policy
COVID has affected different businesses in different ways. Many essential businesses have remained open the entire time but reduced the number of customers allowed in at one time and implemented standard masking and social distancing policies. Many businesses switched to shifting schedules and integrating work-at-home strategies. And some businesses closed down entirely, at least temporarily.
If you’ve had to close down or furlough some of your workers, or in particular, if you’ve had employees out during COVID, then you understand the importance of a safe return-to-work policy. The CDC has guidelines for making sure your business is safe to reopen, and for ensuring employees who have tested positive for COVID don’t return to work until it’s safe to do so.
Some of those policies should continue to be standard practice even after COVID is behind us. Chief among them? The policies about working from home, and not allowing employees to come into work while sick. We’ve yet to learn the impact of other strains, and what it will actually take to acquire herd immunity, even within your workplace.
Before the pandemic, it was standard procedure in many businesses to pressure employees to come into work, even if they weren’t feeling well. For many employees, it was a matter of pride that they had the dedication and fortitude to continue working as usual, even if they were sick. COVID proved this to be a bad policy. One sick person coming to work has the potential to infect everyone else they come into contact with.
This is true of COVID, but it’s also true of things like cold and flu viruses. You may think that by allowing an employee to stay home with some minor illness, like a head cold, you’re losing productivity. However, by pressuring them to come to work, you risk having the entire office get a head cold. Then instead of one person calling in sick, you have several, and more productivity is lost. Additionally, by forcing someone to continue working while sick, they are more likely to take a longer time to recover than if they’d been allowed to take time off to rest and recuperate.
Encouraging employees to work from home is important as well, if possible. Or altering your sick day leave policies. The pandemic proved that a lot of work we thought had to be done in person can instead be done remotely. If someone is feeling well enough to work, but displaying symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, mild fever, etc., they should be allowed to work from home until the symptoms pass and they are healthy enough to return to the office.
The pandemic may be almost over, but pandemic planning for businesses is still necessary. It’s important to be vigilant if we want to stop the spread of disease going forward. Simple policy changes like this will go a long way towards keeping your workforce healthy.
COVID caught us all off guard, but it also taught us a lot. We don’t know when the next pandemic will be, but by learning from the mistakes of the past and continuing to implement safe practices, then when it does appear, we can hopefully stop it from spreading.