The flu season is underway, but its dangers are often overshadowed by COVID-19 — and both illnesses can have serious impacts on your health. In fact, the CDC argues that robust flu-prevention plans may be more critical than ever. After all, influenza and COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms, and people who are at high risk of developing serious complications from the one may also be at high risk from the other.
To help you out, we’ve outlined five essential flu- and virus-fighting controls you can leverage to keep both your workforce and your business healthy.
time to get vocal about flu vaccinations
Simply put, flu shots are more important than ever this year. Why? Two big reasons:
- There were 410,000 flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. last year. Beyond keeping individuals and communities safe, flu vaccinations help reduce that burden on healthcare infrastructure — and enable our healthcare workers to stay focused on fighting the global pandemic.
- The flu can intensify complications for those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 — yet another reason why flu shots are such a key preventative measure.
So start spreading the message to your team members: Getting vaccinated matters! And you can back that up by instituting a temporary leave policy that allows employees to get flu shots during normal working hours.
influenza and COVID-19: similarities and differences
Influenza and COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms — but there are also important differences to note.
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- muscle pain or body aches
- Flu symptoms appear faster than those of COVID-19
- COVID-19 seems to cause more serious illness in some people than the flu
- COVID-19 has also been linked to symptoms, like the loss of taste or smell, that are not typical of influenza
high risk for influenza = high risk for COVID-19
Many people who are at high risk of developing serious complications from influenza are also at high risk from COVID-19 (and vice versa). At-risk groups include:
- adults 65 years old and older
- people with respiratory ailments like asthma
- those with heart, kidney or chronic lung disease
- pregnant women
connecting hygiene and etiquette to health
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly heightened our awareness of the link between hygiene and the spread of disease. And thanks to COVID-19, most of us have now adopted new safety practices — more thorough hand washing, rigorous cleaning protocols and consistent social distancing, to name three examples — that should put us in good standing during this year’s flu season as well.
But you can play an active role in reinforcing hygiene and safety best practices, too. For starters, you should share timely, relevant information with everyone on your team on an ongoing basis. You might remind them, for example, per CDC guidance, that they shouldn’t leave the house without the following three items: a face mask, tissues and hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Just try to keep your messaging short and targeted for maximum impact.
workplace cleanliness in focus
If your team is gearing up to return to a physical workspace, that’s great news — and we’re excited for you! But you should also be sure to communicate proactively with your team all of the new safety measures you’ll be putting in place to keep them safe. Enhanced cleaning of high-touch surfaces like door knobs and light switches, for example, is a key preventative measure for influenza and COVID-19 alike, as these surfaces are often fertile ground for viruses and germs.
Not sure where to get started? It might be a good idea to brush up on OSHA’s guidance.
emphasize the importance of staying home when sick
Your employees naturally want to rise to the occasion and get the job done. But this year, with flu season and the global pandemic coinciding, “toughing it out” isn’t exactly an admirable quality — in fact, it’s a worstcase scenario from a public health perspective. And that’s a new reality you need to clearly drive home to your team.
Make sure all employees, including temporary workers, understand that you want, expect and encourage them to stay home whenever they aren’t feeling well. Explain to your team members that they won’t be penalized for doing so. If their concerns are financial, point out that there should be no shortage of extra shifts once the busy season kicks into gear. Finally, make sure everyone is familiar with the guidance from health officials for safely returning to work after influenza and COVID-19.
flu season: stay-safe cheat sheet
- Encourage team members to get their flu shots as early as possible.
- Initiate an onsite vaccination program, if applicable.
- Institute a temporary and flexible time-off policy to make it easier for staff members to get flu shots during normal working hours.
evangelize health and safety etiquette
- Use ongoing safety communication to instruct team members on proper hand-washing techniques as well as cough etiquette.
- Remind employees that they shouldn’t leave the house without three things: face mask, tissues and hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
keep the workplace clean
- Keep frequently touched objects and surfaces clean (door knobs, handles, light switches, etc.).
- Stock restrooms and workstations with disposable towels and wipes.
- Instruct staff to clean equipment and work surfaces immediately after use.
- Emphasize the importance of staff members staying home when sick to prevent the spread of both influenza and COVID-19.
- Reassure employees that they will not be penalized for staying home due to illness.
- Ensure that sick employees remain at home until at least 24 hours after fever subsides.
COVID-19 workplace precautions
- Improve ventilation, create physical barriers where possible and enforce social distancing at your worksite, if applicable.
- Introduce enhanced cleaning protocols, paying particular attention to high-touch surfaces.
- Coach employees on how to self-monitor for symptoms.
- Actively solicit feedback from employees on your workplace safety initiatives. It’s imperative that all of your employees not only feel safe but are confident that you have their best interests in mind.
For more detailed information on COVID-19 readiness for your workforce and worksite, check out these helpful resources from Randstad.