How Should Businesses Prepare For Long COVID?
Updated: Jul 31
Soumi Eachempati, Forbes Councils Member July 22, 2022
After three years and hundreds of millions of infections, the pandemic is entering a new phase that will also bring new threats. Due to the sheer numbers of infections, the potential demographic impact of Long Covid will become increasingly important. The way this entity will be managed will affect the potential productivity and maintenance supply chains of companies for years to come.
The Scope Of Long Covid
The term Long Covid itself has been misunderstood and misapplied since the beginning of the pandemic. This disease can affect every organ system of the body with variable intensity. The most noted symptoms include generalized ones like fatigue, malaise and generalized aches, as well as symptoms specific to a particular organ like “brain fog," heart failure and kidney failure.
Understanding the magnitude of this issue is crucial as Long Covid affects up to 20% of all Covid cases. This means we may be facing up to 20 million cases in the U.S. Even if the rate of serious cases with persistent symptoms is a fraction of this number, say 25%, that would mean five million individuals would need chronic Long Covid management for the foreseeable future. What Long Covid Means For Businesses
Every sizable business will be impacted by Long Covid and the costs to manage these ramifications could be enormous, with both direct and indirect components. The direct costs will involve healthcare costs and productivity loss; these will depend on the prevalence of cases in the workforce and the intensity of individual cases.
For American businesses that pay in some way for the healthcare of their employees, costs will include an increase in the financial burden of health insurance. This will be augmented by the mental health component of chronic illness, and other costs may accrue when individuals need accommodations for disabilities. These costs will depend on where individuals end up on the range from debilitated to functional and to what degree they can regain their previous standard of work.
Indirect costs will include the need to replace and train severely afflicted employees in an increasingly tight labor market. Maintaining continuity in the workforce will be a challenge, as retaining and recruiting talent becomes more difficult. The competitive landscape may necessitate certain allowances for employees such as flexible scheduling and remote or hybrid work. Psychosocial issues will have to be considered as some employees may be truly fearful of returning to the office. Others may be reluctant to leave ill family members at home alone or be busier with childcare due to the loss of a spouse or relative who may have shared that responsibility. These employees may need duty modifications and/or new skills training.
Workforce management strategies will be greatly affected as a different type of hybrid workforce may emerge. As new variants evolve with unclear contagiousness, innovative seating charts and scheduling modifications may be necessary. The management of potentially vulnerable employees may require out-of-the-box thinking. Some industries with high risks of infectiousness, such as assisted living facilities and crowded manufacturing plants where individuals work in close quarters, may require their own special set of circumstances and protections.
Businesses need to prepare for these direct and indirect costs and start to budget for them. They must learn about the workforce implications and start preparing to make accommodations for workers. They should also understand how Long Covid may affect their DEI mission as Covid has disproportionately caused more severe illness in people of color. They should find strategic partners who will be on the forefront of diagnostic and therapeutic strategies and create best practices for screening and mitigating the disease with appropriate vaccines and boosters.
Businesses will need to continue to uphold a high standard of safe workforce practices commensurate with their own situational risk and personnel vulnerabilities. Organizations will need to both support afflicted individuals and adopt preemptive strategies to minimize organizational risk such as avoiding large meetings after holidays.
The time for businesses to prepare for the next leg of the pandemic is now. Businesses must acknowledge the legitimacy of Long Covid as well as its potential effects on their employees. They need to educate their workforce on Long Covid and related issues so everyone takes the disease seriously. They need to understand that the complex symptoms may change over time and that individuals with the disease will have special needs that must be accommodated.
Long Covid and related issues so everyone takes the disease seriously. They need to understand that the complex symptoms may change over time and that individuals with the disease will have special needs that must be accommodated.
Long Covid is here to stay and will burden society for years to come. Preventing its destructive nature and planning for its impact will benefit organizations in the short- and long-term.
Dr. Soumi Eachempati, CLEARED4 Co-Founder, CEO & CMO