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As health authorities face a cold and flu season that coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic, experts encourage the public to continue practicing good hand hygiene, physical distancing and mask wearing to not only prevent COVID-19 but also colds and influenza. Because colds, flu and COVID-19 are all spread by droplet transmission, mask wearing and social distancing work against these illnesses. So what do employers need to consider to help protect employees and customers from a double-whammy of COVID and seasonal flu?

Some Good News

Flu activity is unusually low at this time but may increase in the coming months. The CDC stated that as of Dec. 4, 189.4 million flu vaccine doses were distributed throughout the nation, the highest ever recorded during a single influenza season. Flu vaccination among adults increased 46% — from 31.1 million administered in 2019 to 45.3 million as of Nov. 28. The coronavirus pandemic likely is contributing to lower flu rates, as well. The restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus are likely reducing the spread. Now COVID vaccines are becoming available, but they will not reach the general public for some time. That means employers must remain diligent to keep workers healthy.

Some Bad News

People don’t wash their hands. The CDC calls handwashing “one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick.” Handwashing is the easiest and most effective defense against illness – including colds, flu and COVID-19. So businesses can help protect health by posting handwashing signs that tell workers, visitors and customers the steps for proper hand hygiene and cough etiquette. These signs work! A 2017 survey found 44% of men said they were more likely to wash their hands after seeing a sign that requires employees to wash before returning to work. When handwashing isn’t possible, hand sanitizer is the next best thing. Have hand sanitizer readily available and marked so people can find it.

Both flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 may be spread to others by people before they begin showing symptoms, with very mild symptoms or who never developed symptoms. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses like flu is more important than ever.

What You Can Do About Flu Season During a Pandemic

Fortunately, many of the steps you are already taking to help prevent COVID infection will also help stop flu and colds:

  • Promote and enforce requirements for face masks, social distancing and handwashing
  • Encourage sick workers to stay home
  • Encourage workers to get vaccinated for the flu – and COVID when it becomes available
  • Develop a policy for workers and clients who become ill in the workplace
  • Promote hand hygiene and cough etiquette
  • Keep the workplace clean with frequent disinfection and consider disposable work surface mats
  • Educate workers about the flu

Key Points to Remember

We’re all tired of COVID, and that includes your workers and customers. Keep these things in mind when developing and enforcing your COVID and flu-season policies:

  1. Social distancing isn’t easy
  2. People forget to wear masks
  3. People get lazy with handwashing
  4. Reminders really do help
  5. Someone will get sick