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VIEWPOINT: Dear CEOs: It’s time to protect your teams

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A “return to normal” sounded pretty good to business leaders throughout the pandemic – especially back in the spring, when mask mandates fell like wheat to the scythe.

Dan Shortridge | PHOTO COURESTY OF DAN SHORTRIDGE

Now, with a rising tsunami of COVID cases and a slackening of CDC guidance, workplaces are about to be decimated by employees calling out sick. A third of Americans are concerned about getting COVID in the next few months; half are worried that their family members’ health will be seriously harmed.

But it’s the millions of Americans suffering the effects of long COVID that is about to truly damage our country. This will be a mass-disabling crisis, and employers will be largely to blame unless they turn some of those pandemic profits into action.

Up to 33 million Americans may already have long COVID, a mild name for a phenomenon that may cause severe, permanent impairments – heart problems, chronic fatigue, breathing issues, migraines, “brain fog,” and mental health issues.

We know that COVID is airborne, that masks are part of a protection plan, and that vaccine protection wanes over time. None of that is disputed except by the most ignorant of pandemic deniers. (And we are still losing about 460 Americans to COVID every day – the equivalent of a Boeing 747 Intercontinental crashing daily.)

Remote work and hybrid arrangements don’t help people who can’t work from home. There are four critical decisions and investments that good companies can implement right now to improve the safety of the people who make them money. About half of workers say their employers aren’t doing a good enough job supporting long COVID sufferers, so there’s room to grow.

Improve indoor air quality: Two years ago, we didn’t know much about this new virus. We now know that COVID is airborne. When people gather in classrooms and offices, boosting indoor air quality is essential. Employers can improve building systems – a significant investment, certainly – and also implement room-level air filters, such as a HEPA air purifier or a homemade Corsi-Rosenthal Box – crafted from a fan, filters, duct tape, and cardboard.

Mandate masking: Good-quality, well-fitting masks (think N95s) are one vital part of fighting COVID. They work best when everyone wears them. To protect all workers, company mask mandates must be restored and employers must invest in having masks on hand for visitors, guests, and job candidates.

Offer paid sick and COVID leave: Americans lacked sufficient paid sick leave even before the pandemic: 68% have fewer than nine days a year. If employees are actually following good quarantine and isolation practices, that will vanish pretty quickly. The real threat is that employees will try to preserve their time off and will come to work shedding the virus all over the office, warehouse, or store. Employers need to designate special blocks of paid, protected COVID leave for their workers to use, and insist they stick to real protective protocols.

(A full quarter of workers don’t get any sick leave. At all. If you’re their boss, fix that now.)

Provide good health insurance: Simply getting a long COVID diagnosis can be very difficult. The need to see multiple specialists can put a further drag on employees. Employers who care will invest in good-quality health insurance, ensure that their teams are covered, and avoid offering cheap, lousy plans.

Long COVID takes people out of the workforce – more than 22% of sufferers in one study. It’s also blamed for up to 15% of vacant jobs. That’s a number that every business executive can grapple with.

Workers: If your employer isn’t talking about these things, ask. If they’re not taking action, start looking for a new job.

CEOs: Act now and help save a life.

Dan Shortridge is a resume writer, career coach, and author based in Delaware.

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