Look, we get it. We’re two years in to the COVID-19 pandemic, new variants like Omicron keep disrupting our nation’s recovery, and we’re all desperately wishing to return to normal — how are HR leaders supposed to plan for Q1 and beyond?
When the path forward looks foggy and unsure, the best thing we can do is turn to the science. We spoke to our Covid expert and Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Marty Makary for his insights on the current state of the pandemic, and what to expect in the months to come.
Read on for the top five takeaways, and watch the conversation in full.
1. Between vaccination and prior infection, very few people do not have some immunity against Covid.
Omicron’s rapid spread also may have accelerated the rate of immunity. “It’s burning through the population so fast,” Dr. Makary noted. “There’s just very few people left who haven’t had it.”
The bright side? Antibodies from Omicron infections strengthen protection against other variants including Delta. This may take the population one step closer to herd immunity.
It’s important to note that immunity — both from vaccination and prior infection — does not mean that there is no chance of contracting the virus or showing symptoms. However, these breakthrough cases are usually more mild.
What this means for HR leaders: Continue monitoring the spread in your community, and encourage your employees to get vaccinated and boosted.
2. The Omicron variant is spreading fast — but it may be heading for a downward trend soon.
We all watched as Omicron spread across the country in a matter of days. “We saw a pop in cases in New York, almost at the same time as we saw them in Florida and parts of the South,” Dr. Makary explained. “We really have not seen that level of synchronous waves before.”
But the sheer velocity of the variant’s spread may also suggest that this wave may be short-lived. “It’s unlikely that we’re going to see a deferred stagger wave of Omicron in the late spring and summer, when we typically have seen waves in the South... That does tell us that we’re on a good path as a country.”
What this means for HR leaders: While we do recommend proceeding with caution, you may not need to take in-person work or events completely off the table for the coming months. Monitor the local case rates and take appropriate precautions to ensure that folks remain healthy.
3. We’ve yet to see the full extent of Covid’s impacts on healthcare costs.
Throughout the pandemic, millions of Americans have deferred their own healthcare. Whether it’s a check up or a major elective surgery, patients have put their health plans on hold.
“I think we’re going to see a mass influx into hospitals and clinics for routine medical care. It’s not as dichotomous as we think, in terms of emergencies versus elective. There are ailments that sort of nag at people, and there are issues that they need to get checked out that are not urgent... and folks have been sitting on those things.”
But here’s the thing about deferred care — it adds up. What was once a sprained ankle may now need long-term physical therapy. Maybe it used to be a cavity, but now it needs a root canal.
At the same time, many healthcare workers made the choice to depart the field during the pandemic. As Dr. Makary pointed out, “One in five people have left healthcare.”
So add all of these factors together and what do you get? Rising costs. This healthcare crisis will likely accelerate the upward trajectory of healthcare prices in the coming years.
Unfortunately, we expect the brunt of these higher costs to fall on small-to-midsize businesses. In 2021 alone, smaller employers (50-499 employees) saw health plan costs grow by 9.6%, almost double the rate of companies with 500 or more employees.
What this means for HR leaders: The time is now to begin building resilience into your healthcare plan. Talk to your broker about how you can bolster your benefits to withstand the rising costs of healthcare. You may also want to revisit your funding strategy — you never know what you may save with a gap-funded or self-funded approach.
4. Variants are going to continue to emerge over time — but we now have two years’ worth of research and experience to fight them.
One major takeaway from our conversation: “We are going to continue to see new variants emerge.”
That isn’t news, though. We know it isn’t going away completely. The best thing we can do is continue to remain vigilant and take appropriate precautions to stay safe.
What does this mean for HR leaders? Keep your employees aware and educated about the current state of the pandemic, as well as your company’s response to it, through regular communication. And maybe keep those Covid response policy guides on hand, just in case.
5. When it’s time to begin transitioning back to “normalcy”, employees will want a specific recovery plan with measurable guideposts.
Let’s be honest: None of us has ever navigated work during a global pandemic. So no one knows what to expect in terms of recovery.
“One of the big frustrations that workers have, and the public has, is that we’re often put in restrictions without any exit criteria. And I think we’re going to see parts of the country... meet the criteria for getting back to normal, but there’s going to be a hesitancy.”
You don’t want to go from 0 to 100 in terms of removing the precautions — especially since variants like Omicron and Delta caused many employers to reverse these policies on a dime. But you also don’t want to keep your employees in limbo without a clear path forward on recovery.
What this means for HR leaders: Keep your employees in the loop on the expected recovery by developing a list of planned policy changes connected with certain milestones. For example, you might choose to resume hosting in-person events once the local positive testing rate dips below a certain percentage. Then share that list with your employees, communicating any updates often.
Have a question Dr. Makary didn’t answer? Our team can help.
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. Marty Makary and other members of our Nava Healthcare & Benefits Advisory Board
- Best practices for adapting and adhering to health & safety precautions in the workplace
- Tips for communicating with employees through the pandemic and beyond