Thank you for joining us for today’s webinar on navigating COVID-19 uncertainty in the workplace. I’m Brian McFadden, a compliance specialist here at Graphic Products.
The COVID pandemic has had a huge impact on the way we live for the last two years. In this webinar, I’ll talk about
- the current state of the pandemic,
- OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard, or ETS, and what’s happened with it over the last few months,
- and ways you can address COVID safety in your own workplace, without giving in to exhaustion and fatigue — by making it part of your overall workplace safety approach, building toward continuous improvement.
The COVID Situation
We’re now over two years into this pandemic. People are exhausted — and no wonder!
Running From Tigers
Humans are surprisingly good at responding to emergencies. If you’re being chased by a tiger, you’ll find you can run pretty quickly — for a little while. But if the tiger is still there after a few minutes, you’re in trouble. Your body can’t stay in panic mode forever; you have to take a break and recover. If you never get a chance to rest, the continuing stress will take a serious toll.
Fatigue Sets In
We’re seeing significant and measurable results of that, in what people simply call “pandemic fatigue”:
- Emotional exhaustion, burnout, and cynicism
- Anxiety about the future
- Reduced willingness to follow safety guidelines
- Reduced efficiency and effectiveness at work
How did we get to this point? How did the pandemic last this long, anyway?
Mutations Over Time
Viruses tend to mutate. Every time a hijacked cell creates a new copy of the virus, there’s a chance that the copy won’t be perfect. Most of the time, these mutations don’t have much of an effect, or they make that particular copy of the virus less effective. Occasionally, though, a mutation turns out to make that copy of the virus more effective — better at grabbing onto a host cell, for example, or better at escaping the immune system by “looking” different.
If one of these mutated copies successfully infects another cell, and passes its mutation on to the next generation of copies, that can lead to a whole new branch in the virus family tree: a new variant.
Not all of these variants are different enough to be worth tracking separately. But with the hundreds of millions of cases in the course of this pandemic, a couple dozen noteworthy variants have appeared. The first one to get a lot of attention here in the United States was the Delta variant, which led to a massive spike in new cases during late summer of 2021. More recently, the Omicron variant has been in the news because it’s spreading even faster than Delta did.
Part of the reason for that surprising spread is that the Omicron variant has a shorter incubation period after a new infection begins, so each victim can spread it more quickly. It also seems to be better at breaking through the protection provided by vaccination; compared to the Delta variant, Omicron is about three times more transmissible among vaccinated people, both to and from a protected person.
Fortunately, it looks like the illness associated with the Omicron variant is less intense than the illness caused by previous variants. Preliminary numbers show that a person infected with Omicron is about half as likely to need hospital care, compared to a person infected with Delta.
On the individual level, that makes Omicron seem less concerning than other variants, but at the community level, things don’t look as good; if each victim is half as likely to need a hospital bed, but there are more than twice as many victims, then the total number of hospital beds needed is still going up. And for people at risk of serious complications, such as the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions, the increased chance of getting sick in the first place is a very big problem.
Even for otherwise healthy people, previous variants of the virus have had some alarming long-term effects that are still being studied now. These effects have ranged from ongoing shortness of breath, to neurological and psychiatric issues, and even cardiovascular complications. One study that looked only at low-risk survivors — that is, young and otherwise healthy people — even found significant rates of organ impairment four months after the victims’ apparent recovery from COVID.
Vaccination Makes a Difference
Importantly, vaccination makes a difference. One study conducted early in the Delta wave found that vaccinated people were five times less likely to get sick than unvaccinated people, and 10 times less likely to require hospitalization.
Even with the Omicron variant’s increased transmissibility, the benefits of vaccination are huge. In addition to reduced risks of infection and serious illness, vaccinated people also tend to recover from sickness more quickly. Naturally, that’s good for them — but it also narrows the window of time when they can spread it to others, which is good for the community as a whole.
Over 60% of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated, but that number is climbing very slowly. Some people haven’t been vaccinated for other medical reasons, or due to religious obligations. But many of the remaining unvaccinated people have been lied to about the relative risks involved, and the ongoing disinformation is a major obstacle in the path to a safer future.