Thinking Out of the Box in a COVID Environment
By David Friend, MD, MBA, Principal, Advisory Services
As we enter the New Year, the United States is experiencing a very large number of people infected with COVID on a daily basis. On Tuesday January 2, Johns Hopkins reported more than one million new daily COVID-19 cases. While this could reflect a holiday backlog, regardless of the exact number, it is clear the U.S. is now experiencing what some experts have called a viral blizzard. If there is any good news to be found, it is that unlike the previous Delta variant, the new Omicron variant may be less virulent and lead to less severe disease and risk of hospitalizations among those who become infected.
If the current trend of viral spread in the United Kingdom holds, which appears to be several weeks ahead of the U.S., the spike in cases here could begin to fall rapidly toward the end of the month, with the peak of hospitalizations lagging by about two weeks. Given this, here are five practical ways of thinking about COVID to help our clients navigate and manage their businesses over the next several weeks.
1. Think like a hospital administrator
Don’t focus on the number of infections in your area as the key metric. Rather, focus on making sure that the hospitals in your area are not overwhelmed so they can continue to provide healthcare to those who need it for both COVID and non-COVID-related reasons. For our post-acute care clients, focus on maintaining and strengthening relationships with the hospitals that send you patients. Hospitals will be under increasing pressure to transfer patients who are stable out of the hospital in order to make room for more urgently acute patients, and they will need your support more than ever. This means focusing on coordinating operations and communications as much as possible. Focusing on these relationships will pay dividends now and into the future.
2. Think like a scuba diver
The deeper you go, the more watertight you want your mask to be. Think of Omicron as being in deeper water. Encourage your employees and the people you do business with to use better respiratory protection. That means wearing a quality, good-fitting mask; remembering to wear the mask properly; and always covering your nose and mouth when around other people.
3. Think like a scientist
Encourage your employees and all the people you do business with to talk to their doctors about vaccination. Except in rare circumstances, the latest data suggest that most people are far less likely to end up in the hospital from COVID if they have received three shots (two vaccine jabs plus one booster).
4. Think like a human resources professional
Prepare for short-term staffing shortages. With so many people becoming infected at the same time, and countries like the U.K. reporting absence rates among first responders of nearly 20 percent, it is only prudent to have a plan in place now.
5. Think like an odds maker
If you want to avoid COVID, avoid large crowds or meetings as much as possible until the outbreak subsides.If one out of 10 people have COVID in your geographic area:
- If you go to a meeting with 1 person, the odds are roughly 10 percent that person will have COVID.
- If you go to a meeting with 5 people, the odds are roughly 50 percent that someone there will have COVID.
- If you go to a meeting with 10 people, the odds are roughly 100 percent that someone there will have COVID.
- If you go to a meeting with 100 people, the odds are that many people will have COVID.
Despite the negative headlines, there are many reasons to be hopeful.
First, new technology has enabled new vaccines and medications that can mitigate its impact.
Second, the virus may come and go very quickly, like a rapidly moving forest fire that burns very hot but quickly consumes all the fuel. In fact, because of this characteristic, some virologists believe this may be the beginning of the end of the pandemic, as there will be far less forest left to burn due to increased immunity from vaccination and infection.
While no one has a crystal ball, following these five practical ways of thinking will put you in much better position to thrive in the New Year.