Dr. Marty Makary's Covid Update: Six Facts to Keep Your Employees Safe This Holiday Season
Looking for more guidance on navigating COVID-19 in the workplace? Check out our blog for expert insights from Dr. Makary and others.
The November 2020 COVID-19 story was one of panic. This November is one of progress.
But we're not out of the woods yet. US Covid deaths in 2021 have surpassed the total in 2020. The US is now averaging 94,943 new cases each day, according to Johns Hopkins University — a 31% increase over last week and back to levels last seen more than a month ago. Midwestern states account for more than a third (38%) of new cases.
Knowing this, how should business leaders proceed towards the holiday season and all of its festive get-togethers? (Not to mention the quickly approaching OSHA vaccine mandate, expected to go into effect just after the New Year.)
Covid expert and Nava Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Marty Makary joined us for another monthly update on the current state of the pandemic. Read on for key takeaways.
1. Case rates are expected to plateau over the coming months.
"We're in the plateau phase right now," Dr. Makary explained, "and I think we're going to officially move into the endemic phase where people will feel better once new anti-viral medications become widely available."
Maybe it's not a definitive finish line, but after the rollercoaster of the last year and a half, we'll take it.
Still, as Dr. Makary discussed in last month's update, the severity of the pandemic varies based on geography. "Right now, the Northern United States — namely the Great Lakes region — is having a really tough time... while the Southeast and most of the Southern United States is as quiescent as it may ever get."
2. Boosters take effect almost immediately, offering increased protection for your holiday get-togethers.
"Unlike primary vaccine doses, you get the effect immediately within days." That means folks can get the shot and confidently go to a holiday party later that week.
Doctors have long understood that the vaccine's efficacy would wane over time. A booster renews your resilience against infection. As Dr. Makary described it, "rewinding back to that level of protection they had early on when they had their first two doses."
Dr. Makary shared some stats to illustrate the impacts of the booster on immunity — and these numbers are hard to ignore. For a standard fully-vaccinated individual who once had 89-93% efficacy, the months following saw significant decreases in protection against infection:
- Moderna vaccine efficacy drops to 58%
- Pfizer drops to 45%
- Johnson & Johnson drops to 13%
So now that the booster is available for everyone, who should get it first? Dr. Makary urges folks who are at risk — elderly or immunocompromised — to make their appointment before heading out to that party. "If somebody is over 65, I would say try to get your booster before the family gathering."
3. Make it a double: get your flu shot at the same time as your booster.
Yep, it's safe to get both in the same sitting. And it may provide the protection your body needs to get through this upcoming flu season.
"You can do it in one visit and reduce the risk of an auto accident on the way to getting your shot, which may be more risky than the shot itself."
4. It's still a good idea to prepare for OSHA's mandates — but it's unclear whether the policy will go into effect.
On November 4th, OSHA released details and deadlines for the workplace vaccination and testing requirements for employers with over 100 employees, but there are still active legal challenges to this federal mandate.
"I've heard the legal community kind of split, and sometimes it's hard to get an objective opinion... We'll see where it lands, but right now we're preparing for the mandate, but recognizing it may not very well follow through for either legal or implementation reasons."
(Don't know where to start? Here's a guide to ramping up for the January 4th deadline beginning today.)
5. The new Covid treatment pills may be game-changers in our pandemic response.
Early trial data suggests that both Merck and Pfizer's medications are extremely effective, cutting the death rate to zero among treated individuals. And it could be widely available as soon as December.
"This could officially mark the end of the pandemic phase in the United States and the transition to the endemic phase. Nobody should be dying of Covid right now."
6. Above all, enjoy yourselves this holiday season.
"People have made a lot of sacrifices over the last 19 months and they deserve to have good family time." You don't need to tell us twice, Dr. Makary.
Plus, holiday gatherings aren't just fun; quality time with loved ones is also good for health, both physical and mental. "It's good for health outcomes, good for relationships, human connections."
How can your company encourage that human connection? Give your employees the time and flexibility to unplug, recharge, and be with their families.
Looking for more guidance? As your source for reliable, science-backed info, Nava will continue to provide regular Covid updates with all HR leaders need to know:
- The current state of the pandemic, according to Covid expert Dr. Makary and other members of our Nava Healthcare & Benefits Advisory Board
- Best practices for adapting and adhering to new vaccine mandates in the workplace
- Tips for communicating with employees through the pandemic and beyond