What happens next in the pandemic and how should businesses prepare?
Current Status of COVID-19
After two years plus of the pandemic, businesses in the United States are considering a return to a more traditional workforce model. Cases in the U.S. have decreased throughout February and early March 2022, while pandemic fatigue has urged a push to historic normalcy.
However, infections from coronaviruses will likely persist in some form for the foreseeable future, due to the mutatory nature of coronaviruses. The conditions that lead to coronaviral infections such as overcrowding, suboptimal hygiene, and human proximity to animal markets such as those in Wuhan, still exist in much of the world. The distribution of refugee populations from crises such as those currently in Ukraine and elsewhere will further contribute to the permanence of COVID-19 infections.
COVID-19 cases in other parts of the world, such as Hong Kong and Germany, have risen to record highs, and U.S. daily COVID-19 deaths as of March 20, 2022, still exceed over 1000 cases per day. Vaccination coverage for the U.S. still lags under two-thirds of the population and in many underdeveloped countries, where variants can develop and thrive, the rates are much lower.
Why will the risk persist?
Scientifically, there are also reasons why future infections of this nature may proliferate. The mutatory nature of coronaviruses leads to more contagious strains that may avoid the previous inoculation just as the Omicron strain did. Also, this pandemic is actually the third major coronavirus strain after SARS-CoV-1 and MERS in the last 20 years that has plagued the globe and there is no logical reason why this current virus will be the last. Finally, the conditions that lead to coronaviral infections such as overcrowding, suboptimal hygiene, and human proximity to animal markets such as those in Wuhan, still persist in much of the world. The distribution of refugee populations from crises such as those currently in Ukraine and elsewhere will further contribute to the permanence of COVID-19 infections
The biology of the virus is also a cause for concern. Coronaviral strains have already been identified in multiple animal hosts such as great apes, minks, white-tailed deer, raccoon foxes, and pangolins. Historically, animal reservoirs can be breeding grounds for new viral infections which may pose new immunologic challenges that may be resistant to antibodies from previous coronaviral infections or vaccinations so, unlike smallpox and polio, the class of coronaviruses may continue to pose dangerous threats to human populations
What will the pandemic be like going forward?
In the near term, the pandemic will mimic its own past two years. The number of infections per capita in different areas will not be uniformly distributed. However, due to the integrated nature of global supply chains and international travel patterns, coupled with the intrinsically contagious nature of new variants, most areas will eventually be affected.
What should be the goals of organizations regarding COVID-19 in the future?
The goal of any organization whether it is a business, educational facility, event venue, or private society will remain the same: to fulfill the mission of that organization while protecting its members, clients, employees, and visitors. Businesses must also understand that they need to protect their brand, their legal risks, and the future viability of their business. For example, food service companies with COVID-19 outbreaks will lose current and future revenue, consumers, and employees. Societies that sponsor gatherings that serve as super-spreading events will lose respect as well as future attendance. Minimizing outbreaks of any future coronaviruses will also diminish legal risks and unwanted publicity to any entity.
Unfortunately, the next phase of the pandemic will have a major difference from the earlier phases of the pandemic. Now, communities or governments will be less involved in creating blanket safety mandates that could inhibit the spread of COVID-19. Public opinion is too divided on their value and effectively corporations will have to assume the mantle. Global enterprises will have more challenges as they will be struggling to provide similar standards to dissimilar international groups with very diverse values.
What should organizations actually do?
Organizations need to demonstrate unequivocally that they will take responsibility for creating and implementing safe health practices. Regarding COVID-19, proactive groups will educate and incentivize the process of vaccines and boosters for all organizational members of an organization. They should strongly consider identical policies for visitors and clients and they should tailor their rules to their facility depending on risk.
A strong roadmap for managing all facets of COVID-19 will make organizational sense as well. Businesses will then react more effectively when institutional or community threats occur. A consistent organizational strategy will also allow its members to have confidence in their ideals while providing a strong vehicle for retention and recruitment.
How else has the pandemic affected the future of businesses?
Businesses will now need to demonstrate unmitigated leadership in their communities. Regarding COVID-19 and all other policies, they will need to lead by example to assure consumers, clients, and, visitors that they are cognizant of everyone’s best interests. They must understand the economic risks for their own community and geographic locale and the specific risks to their own supply chain.
Perhaps most importantly, organizations will need to take more responsibility for the mental health of their members. This undertaking makes enormous business sense. The last two-plus years of the pandemic have exerted unique stressors on society as a whole. Millions of people have experienced incalculable loss while others may still be battling “long COVID” or other mental health issues. Loneliness and isolation have never been more prominent due to the need for solitary behavior during times of high disease rates. Parents, in particular, have had special concerns regarding their children and reportedly a quarter of parents have taken their child to a mental health specialist during the pandemic.
For all these reasons, organizations now have a monumental challenge in the next phase of the pandemic. They will need to understand that the productivity and organizational goals of themselves and their communities will be related to the physical and mental well-being of their members. With the right type of preparation and the creation of an extensive roadmap for complex future considerations, businesses can contribute to the economic viability of their communities and the social well-being of their constituents.
Dr. Soumi Eachempati, CLEARED4 Co-Founder, CEO & CMO